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Keywords:

  • sexual harassment;
  • basic beliefs;
  • posttraumatic stress disorder;
  • stress

Abstract

It is clear that sexual assault can precipitate posttraumatic stress disorder. Some theorists have suggested that less severe sexually harassing behaviors may also have trauma-like sequelae. In a study evaluating this hypothesis, 69 female participants completed self-report measures of instances of sexual harassment, basic beliefs, psychological distress/symptoms, and PTSD symptoms. Participants watched videotapes depicting sexual harassment, emotional arousal (not sexual in nature), and a neutral interaction while their heart rate was monitored, and they were interviewed using the SCID for PTSD. Results revealed that those who had been sexually harassed reported more negative basic beliefs, more general distress, and more negative state mood after watching the sexual harassment video, relative to those who had not been harassed. The severity of sexual harassing behaviors experienced was positively correlated with PTSD symptoms. Heart rate reactivity to the videotapes did not differ across groups defined by sexual harassment status.