Allison Mazur (https://www.comm.ucsb.edu/people/allison-mazur) receives the 2020 Outstanding Thesis Award for the International Communication Interpersonal Division. Her thesis, completed at Michigan State University, centers on what messages recipients find most supportive and confirming following an episode of sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment and Confirmation Theory: How Recipients Perceive the Dimensions of Acceptance and Challenge
With the onslaught of sexual violence scandals involving celebrities and politicians, sexual harassment has recently become a topic of public concern. While much attention is being devoted to victims speaking out about their experiences and holding harassers accountable, limited communication research attention has been devoted to supporting victims of sexual harassment. This manuscript applies Dailey’s (2006) confirmation theory to understand what confirming messages participants in a hypothetical sexual harassment scenario will find most effective, and how the severity of the harassment may affect the reception of confirming messages. Participants (N = 170) in a repeated-measures design were presented with one of three hypothetical sexual harassment scenarios varying in severity and asked to rate how validating, motivating, appropriate, and facilitative of reappraisal they perceived four confirmation messages to be. Results indicated that high acceptance/high challenge messages were most effective across outcomes. Challenge and scenario severity interacted such that low challenge messages were rated more validating in the low severity scenario compared to the moderate severity scenario. Low challenge messages were also rated more appropriate in the low severity and high severity scenarios compared to the moderate severity scenario. Participant sex and challenge interacted such that males rated low challenge message more validating, motivating and appropriate than females; whereas females rated high challenge messages as more validating and appropriate than males. Theoretical and pragmatic implications are discussed.