ADOLESCENT GIRLS' COGNITIVE APPRAISALS OF COPING RESPONSES TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Authors


  • The research was supported by grants to the first author from the University of California–Santa Cruz, Academic Senate and Social Sciences Division, and by grants to the second author from the University of California–Los Angeles, Center for the Study of Women. The students, teachers, and staff at the following sites are thanked for the help with the study: Expanding Your Horizons at University of California–Santa Cruz, Girl Scouts of Monterey Bay, River Trail Middle School, Los Angeles High School, North Hollywood High School, Rogers High School, and Westchester High School. Also, the authors thank Carly Friedman for helpful suggestions during survey construction, Agnieszka Spatzier for data coordination, and Bren Michelle Chasse and Nicole Nunez for data entry.

Abstract

Peer sexual harassment is a stressor for many girls in middle and high school. Prior research indicates that approach strategies (seeking support or confronting) are generally more effective than avoidance strategies in alleviating stress. However, the deployment of effective coping behaviors depends partly on how individuals evaluate different options (i.e., cognitive appraisal). The present study tested sociocultural (ethnicity, parents’ education), interpersonal (perceived support from peers, mother, and father), developmental (age, perspective taking), and individual (self-esteem, feminist self-identification) factors as predictors of girls’ cognitive appraisals of coping responses to sexual harassment. The sample comprised 304 girls (M age = 15.5 years, range = 14 to 18 years) from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds who reported having previously experienced sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted sexual comments or actions). Cognitive appraisals of coping were based on the reported likelihood of confronting, seeking help, or using avoidance in response to sexual harassment. Regression analyses indicated that feminist identity, self-esteem, perspective taking, perceived support, and parents’ education were variously related to appraisals of different responses.

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