Sexual harassment has been shown to affect lives of millions of women and many men. Despite recent research progress, virtually nothing is yet known about the psychological process underlying psychic harm, or the typical course of harm and recovery. Although clinical data suggest damage can be profound and long-lasting, no studies of its nature and duration have been undertaken, nor do there exist any empirical studies of the factors that facilitate or inhibit recovery.
The specific aims of the present project are to identify critical aspects of harassment leading to psychological damage; test a psycho-social model of this process through prospective study; and identify factors facilitating and inhibiting recovery. Grounded in a cognitive framework for understanding victimization and recovery, the design is based on longitudinal analysis of: (1) a community sample of 1500 young women and 500 young men entering the workforce at various levels; (2) a longitudinal follow-up of 1000 female participants in class action law suits, and (3) 100 female plaintiffs in individual law suits. Sample A incorporates women and men entering the workforce in the summer/fall of 2001; sampling is based on a stratified multi-stage cluster strategy across high schools, community colleges, and universities. Sampling from three educational levels ensures a broad cross section of the workforce, whereas the urban sites ensure inclusion of a large number of racial and ethnic minority participants. Male participants (n=500) are drawn mainly from high school graduates, as the literature suggest that male targets are most likely to be found in blue-collar non-technical. All participants will completed a comprehensive assessment of their experiences and psychological status that serves as the baseline for the recovery analyses. Sample C includes 100 women who filed individual suit against their employers for sexual harassment, and underwent a comprehensive psychological evaluation. These samples include participants across the entire spectrum of victimization, up to and including sexual assault. In addition, they represent various levels of adversarial legal involvement (none; non-contested settlement; contested binding arbitration; deposition and discovery; and actual trial), thus allowing a unique opportunity to examine the possible iatrogenic effects of seeking legal redress.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-4 (01))
Program Officer
Bourdon, Karen H
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Lawson, Angela K; Wright, Caroline Vaile; Fitzgerald, Louise F (2013) The evaluation of sexual harassment litigants: reducing discrepancies in the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Law Hum Behav 37:337-347
Larsen, Sadie E; Fitzgerald, Louise F (2011) PTSD symptoms and sexual harassment: the role of attributions and perceived control. J Interpers Violence 26:2555-67
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Wright, Caroline Vaile; Fitzgerald, Louise F (2009) Correlates of joining a sexual harassment class action. Law Hum Behav 33:265-82
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