• Articles

What is Sexual Harassment? An Empirical Study of Judges and Ordinary People


From Saint Louis University Public Law Review

Public perceptions of sexual harassment map onto cultural scripts of who can be a legitimate victim. This article is motivated by a series of empirical and normative questions. First, do judges and ordinary people perceive sexual harassment differently? Second, does a person’s background shape their perceptions about the absence or presence of sexual harassment?

The results of the study reveal that there are three definitional approaches to sexual harassment. The first is the legal approach where the statutory language and precedent are the predominant framework when evaluating possible legal claims. The second approach is the classification of sexual harassment from social scientific perspective, whereby individuals apply a broader definition that may or may not include extra-legal variables. The third approach is the lived experience, or the empathetic approach, where a person’s background influences perceptions of harassment.