Explicit Content: An Investigation of Online Sexual Harassment

Explicit Content: An Investigation of Online Sexual Harassment

Kevin N. Shufford (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4912-4.ch005
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This chapter investigates the transformation of traditional face-to-face sexual harassment (SH) to online sexual harassment (OSH). First, an overview of traditional workplace sexual harassment is discussed. Next, the issues of cyberbullying and cyberstalking are presented as a bridge to online sexual harassment, as the two former types of behavior can be seen in online sexual harassment and have both received considerable attention. Then, current research concerning online sexual harassment will be presented, including a discussion of factors that facilitate OSH, social media as a site of harassment, coping strategies, and effects. This concept is worthy of study because online sexual harassment represents a way for the perpetrator to victimize his or her target without the boundaries and restrictions of time, location, or fear of consequence. This chapter concludes with some practical recommendations for organizational leaders to implement to prevent both on- and offline SH from occurring within their company.
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Within the last several years, sexual harassment (SH) and assault allegations have truly become prominent and problematic issues within organizations and throughout society (Shaw, Hegewisch, & Hess, 2018). Specifically, since 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has received 38,222 sex-based harassment allegations, which resulted in approximately $171 million in monetary benefits paid to employees (EEOC, 2020). This figure does not include allegations filed at the state or local levels, or the incidents that occurred that were never filed. During this time frame, primarily due to the #MeToo movement, accusations of SH and sexual assault ripped through the country, claimed against a myriad of revered men from the entertainment industry, business organizations, and the United States government (Williams & Lebsock, 2018). Some of these men include film producer Harvey Weinstein; actor Kevin Spacey; television news anchor Matt Lauer; television journalist Charlie Rose; record executive Russell Simmons; comedian Louis C.K.; [former] senator Al Franken; [former] chief justice Roy Moore; and even, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The accusations range from unwanted sexual comments and unsolicited touch to full-fledged sexual assault and rape.

As renowned perpetrators continue to fall one-by-one, the general population may find it jarring that, in reality, the average, everyday citizen may be engaging in SH. Specifically, most of the #MeToo allegations refer to men, often in high-power positions, engaging in SH and assault of their subordinates and colleagues within their organizations and industries (Anderson & Toor, 2018; Graf, 2018). However, not all SH is perpetrated during face-to-face (FtF) interactions at work (Graf, 2018). For example, 25% of women between the ages of 18-24 report being sexually harassed on social media, while 26% report being stalked (Leber, 2014). The general problem is that the perpetration of SH continues to persist in the workplace. The specific problem is that as online interactions have become more mainstream over the last two decades, perpetrators have expanded platforms to engage in SH. Specifically, innumerable survivors suffer in silence due to the consequences of speaking out or reporting the crimes committed by the perpetrator, such as re-living trauma, their own reputations being trashed by the public, and even receiving death threats (May, 2018).

Therefore, this state-of-the-art review has three primary goals. First, this chapter begins by laying out the foundation of traditional concepts of SH in the workplace. This section defines SH and highlights several reasons why it may occur within organizations. Next, the chapter shifts its attention to SH in an online environment. Several topics covered include factors that influence SH online, social media as a specific site of harassment, how individuals may attempt to cope with online sexual harassment (OSH), and the potential effects OSH can have on survivors. Finally, several practical recommendations are provided to assist organizational leaders in managing and minimizing the incidence of OSH. The author hopes that this chapter will help illuminate the prevalence and seriousness of OSH to bring about behavioral change in online interactions within and outside organizations.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Disinhibition Effect: Willingness to do or say something online that an individual would not necessarily do or say in face-to-face settings because the consequences are less severe or not immediately apparent or existent.

Online Sexual Harassment: Sending and/or receiving sexually suggestive material and/or messages through computer-mediated channels such as the Internet or social media.

Online Sexual Coercion: Online behavior that mirrors face-to-face sexual coercion involving continuous pressuring of an individual to engage in sexual cooperation through various means such as strong writing skills, seduction, bribes, threats, images, or videos.

Cyberstalking: Repeated unwanted, either known or unknown, communication with or following of an individual through computer-mediated channels such as monitoring location or more directly through continuous unsolicited messages.

Cyberbullying: Abuse of another person through computer-mediated channels such as sending offensive or threatening messages, sharing explicit photos, or threats of violence or retaliation.

Sexual Harassment: Inappropriate sexual behavior that emphasizes an exchange of sexual favors in return for favorable treatment or creates an uncomfortable or hostile work environment.

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