Hostility, coercion, sexism among causes of harassment in military

November 01, 1999

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.-- Results of the U.S. military's 1995 survey of sexual harassment in its ranks were frightening -- 78 percent of women reported at least one of nine kinds of incidents. University of Illinois researchers say, however, that although the number is troubling, it is not the whole story.

A series of studies in the current quarterly issue of the journal Military Psychology provide a more comprehensive look at the 1995 Department of Defense survey of more than 28,000 military personnel. The researchers conclude that solutions to the problem require greater gender parity where and when possible, as well as greater intolerance of such behavior on the part of military leadership.

"The staggering fact is the military is not all that different from what we've found in studies of private-sector organizations," said Fritz Drasgow, a professor of psychology and of labor and industrial relations and guest editor of the journal's special issue on sexual harassment. "Basically, what we found is that tolerant attitudes by leaders in an organization are related to increased rates of harassment, and that sexual harassment has real negative effects."

The effects included job dissatisfaction and reduced psychological and physical well being. "Given a certain amount of harassment, men and women suffer the same negative effects, but women are harassed a great deal more than men," he said.

The studies used a sophisticated measure of sexual harassment, focusing strictly on actual behaviors, that was developed by Louise Fitzgerald, a U. of I. professor of psychology and of women's studies. Researchers looked at what led to higher and lower rates of incidents, whether the conditions were the same for men and women, what types of incidents occurred most frequently, what were the consequences, and what should be realistically counted as sexual harassment.

Drasgow and Fitzgerald are working with the Defense Manpower Data Center to revise the survey for use next year by the Defense Department.

"The data reported here cast new light on the nature (as opposed to simply the incidence) of sexual harassment of female military personnel and suggest the wisdom of reframing both policy debates and interventions," wrote Fitzgerald, Drasgow and then-graduate students Vicki J. Magley and Craig R. Waldo in one study. "The results clearly indicate that the problems faced by women in the military have far more to do with hostility than sexual attraction."

One in three women reported getting some kind of unwanted sexual overture, but the analysis found that only 2 percent of these experienced purely sexual attention; the other 98 percent received the attention in combination with sexist hostility, sexual hostility or coercion.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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