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Legal Consciousness and Responses to Sexual Harassment


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2003 meetings of the Law and Society Association, Pittsburgh. We thank Jeylan Mortimer for support in several phases of this research, Jason Houle for research assistance, and Steve Barkan, Lance Blackstone, Steve Cohn, Andy Halpern-Manners, Mike Vuolo, and Sara Wakefield for helpful comments. The Youth Development Study is supported by a grant, “Work Experience and Mental Health: A Panel Study of Youth,” from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD44138). It was previously supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH42843). Additional support was obtained from the University of Minnesota Life Course Center and the University of Maine Women in the Curriculum Program. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health. Direct correspondence to Amy Blackstone, Department of Sociology, University of Maine, 5728 Fernald Hall, Orono, ME 04469; e-mail:


Studies of legal mobilization often focus on people who have perceived some wrong, but these studies rarely consider the process that selects them into the pool of potential “mobilizers.” Similarly, studies of victimization or targeting rarely go on to consider what people do about the wrong, or why some targets come forward and others remain silent. We here integrate sociolegal, feminist, and criminological theories in a conceptual model that treats experiencing sexual harassment and mobilizing in response as interrelated processes. We then link these two processes by modeling them as jointly determined outcomes and examine their connections using interviews with a subset of our survey respondents. Our results suggest that targets of harassment are selected, in part, because they are least likely to tell others about the experience. We also discuss strategies that workers employ to cope with and confront harassment. We find that traditional formal/informal dichotomies of mobilization responses may not fully account for the range of ways that individuals respond to harassment, and we propose a preliminary typology of responses.