He Said, She Said: The Effectiveness and Outcomes of Responses to Sexual Harassment

Author ORCID Identifier

J.-Yunier Bello-Cruz:https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7877-5688

Publication Title

International Journal of Business Communication





Document Type



Recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment focused the spotlight on inappropriate workplace behavior. Much of the prior research on sexual harassment focuses on organizational culture, what organizations can do to create harassment-free environments, and to increase reporting when it does occur. Less work explores what happens in the actual harassment situations, or how the immediate responses to the incivility affect future interactions. This study seeks to fill that gap by exploring effectiveness of the message responses used by female targets of sexual harassment by male harassers to curtail future harassment in the workplace. We also explore how the target’s responses affect bystanders’ perceptions of her communication effectiveness and her future potential of being promoted. Data were gathered from workers with an average of 12 years of work experience. Using a variety of sexual harassment scenarios developed for this study, we found that assertive responses were considered the most effective in supporting a positive image of the target and avoidance was the least effective. To curtail future harassment, assertiveness and assertive-empathetic responses were perceived as effective strategies. In terms of maintaining the prospects for future promotions, participants again rated assertiveness as the best strategy for the target to employ. Across all scenarios, avoidance was a poor strategy. Beyond several interesting research findings, the scenarios provide materials that could be modified for use by those who are trainers dealing with sexual harassment or could be used as a foundation for more advanced research regarding sexually harassing messages.

Publication Date





aggressive responses, assertive responses, fear of retribution, humor, sexual harassment communication training, sexual harassment resistance messages


Department of Communication