The Peer Context of Sexual Harassment in Early Adolescence
This dissertation is composed of three studies that examined the relationship between early adolescents’ sexual harassment experiences (as targets, witnesses, and perpetrators) and the peer environments in which they are embedded. Taking a feminist-developmental perspective, these studies explored peer-contextual predictors of sexual harassment perpetration, as well as psychosocial correlates of perpetration and victimization. Students in Grades 7 and 8 (n = 435 participants at Time 1; n = 370 at Time 2) completed self-report measures of sexual harassment perpetration, victimization, witnessing, psychosocial functioning, and peer social networks at two time points, about four months apart. Study 1 examined cross-sectional associations among sexual harassment victimization, shame, and depressive symptoms, and explored how witnessing sexual harassment might affect these associations. Study 2 examined individual and peer contextual predictors of sexual harassment perpetration. Finally, Study 3 examined psychosocial consequences of sexual harassment perpetration, and explored how individuals’ social power might impact their experiences. The results of these studies suggest that peers play a complex role in the development of sexual harassment, and in predicting perpetrators’ and targets’ psychosocial responses to these behaviours. Findings can inform the development of effective intervention programs at the middle school level, with implications for preventing sexual harassment and mitigating its consequence.