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2008 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

National Meeting 2008

1036 — Association between Perceived Local Social Norms and the Reported Severity of Men's and Women’s Military Sexual Harassment

Murdoch M (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research (CCDOR)), Pryor JB (Illinois State University-Normal), Gackstetter GD (Chemical and Biological Defense Programs), Cowper-Ripley D (HSR&D/RR&D Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center), Polusny MA (CCDOR)

Despite a formal “zero tolerance” policy toward military sexual harassment, US troops report some of the highest sexual harassment rates in the world. One reason a “zero tolerance” policy may not translate into zero sexual harassment events is because most preventative efforts are targeted toward upper-echelon officers. These officers’ norms may or may not “trickle down” to their troops. We examined the association between active duty troops’ sexual harassment reports and the social norms they perceived to be emanating from their work units, immediate supervisors, and superior officers.

National, cross-sectional, mailed survey of all 681 confirmed active duty troops enrolled in the VA’s medical system in 2002/2003. 611 (89%) returned surveys; 232 (38%) were female. We assessed social norms with the Perceived Tolerance of Sexual Harassment in the Military (PTSH) scale. The Sexual Harassment Inventory (SHI) assessed the severity of troops’ sexual harassment reports. Both measures have good psychometric properties. Analyses adjusted for other sexual harassment predictors.

After adjustment, PTSH scores accounted for 16% of the variance in women’s reported sexual harassment severity (p < 0.0001) and 3% in men’s (p = 0.003). Perceived norms emanating from troops’ immediate units and supervisors were more strongly associated with their reported sexual harassment severity (combined variance explained = 5.7%) than were those emanating from troops’ senior officers (variance explained = 0.5%). In fact for women, there was no association between superior officers’ norms and reported sexual harassment severity (p = 0.86). In men, there was a small, inverse association (B = -0.03, eta-squared = 1.8, p = 0.03)

Perceived social norms emanating from troops’ immediate work unit and supervisor explained more of the severity in their sexual harassment reports than did those emanating from senior officers. Perceived social norms accounted for more variance in women’s reports than in men’s.

We believe we are the first to examine how social norms emanating from different organizational levels might affect reported sexual harassment severity. While needing replication, our data suggest that interventions aimed at modifying senior officers’ social norms may be less useful in reducing sexual harassment severity than those aimed at troops’ immediate work unit and supervisor.

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