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Photo provided by Kimberly Rios.

OU alumni publish research on sexual harassment in the workplace

During the age of the #MeToo movement, research could provide insight as to why men in positions of power are motivated to sexually harass, assault, or rape others.

A new study conducted by two Ohio University alumni asserts that sexual gratification is not the only motivation behind sexual harassment — it is also about trying to look more competent and in control to others. 

"Their insecurity about being perceived as incompetent prompts them to want to undermine a woman’s position in the social hierarchy,” Kimberly Rios, an associate professor of psychology at OU, said in a university press release.

Rios and Dr. Leah Halper, associate director with the Center for the Study of Student Life at the Ohio State University, conducted three different studies to understand factors that contribute to men misusing power to sexually harass others.

The outcome of the studies support the idea that powerful men are inclined to sexually harass when they worry that they will be perceived as incompetent. The same did not hold true for women.

“Fearing that others will perceive you as incompetent is a better predictor of sexual harassment than your self-perceived incompetence,” Halper said in a university press release.

The studies used a combination of adults and college students. Some of the combinations only included men, while others included both men and women. 

In one study, 273 men had to imagine themselves in the position of an employer who has power over a female employee or interviewee. 

They were asked to indicate whether they would ask for sexual favors in return for securing her a job, a promotion or some other job-related benefit. Participants also had to answer questions about their self-esteem, how narcissistic they are and how much they are impacted by others’ opinions and criticisms.

Harper and Rios believe that sexual harassment in the workplace should be examined more broadly, according to a university press release. They also say companies should work toward creating cultures that do not foster feelings of insecurity.


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