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Many sexual harassers fear appearing incompetent, study finds

The MeToo movement has spurred a national conversation about the abuse of power, misogyny, and the reality that thousands if not millions of people around the world have their own unspoken MeToo story. It has also brought with it dozens of powerful men accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

One question that psychologists, social scientists, and researchers are asking is what motivates sexual harassment and are there certain factors that influence sexual harassment in some powerful people and not others?

One Washington Post piece discussed the work of psychologist John Pryor from the University of Illinois who created the “Likelihood to Sexually Harass” scale.

Pryor and his colleagues discovered that environmental factors, a lack a empathy, and a firm belief in traditional gender roles were distinctive characteristics shared by many harassers.

Psychologist David Ley told CNBC that the status and privilege afforded positions of power can create a false sense of invincibility in men which can lead to acts of harassment and intimidation.

“There are intense issues of entitlement and power and control that have gone unchecked that lead to situations where men feel it’s perfectly fine to engage in these kind of behaviors,” Ley told CNBC.

Now, a recent study found that men in power sexually harass others because of insecurities about being judged as incompetent.

“Fearing that others will perceive you as incompetent is a better predictor of sexual harassment than your self-perceived incompetence,” Leah Halper, the study’s lead author told the Daily Mail.

Researchers from Ohio University and the Ohio State University conducted the study which was published in the journal Sex Roles.

The researchers expanded on the theory that men are more likely to sexually harass someone if their social standing is at risk.

For the study, three different studies were conducted with both college students and adults and some included both men and women.

Participants were asked about the likelihood of engaging in sexual harassment and in one study 273 men were told to imagine themselves in a position of power over a female employee.

Would the men consider taking sexual favors in return for a promotion or job offer was one question the participants were asked.

The studies also assessed the participants’ levels of self-esteem and narcissism and the results showed that more than anything else, fear of being judged as incompetent was a major motivator for harassment.

“The findings also suggest that men do not necessarily sexually harass women because they seek sexual gratification, but rather because their insecurity about being perceived as incompetent prompts them to want to undermine a woman’s position in the social hierarchy,” Kimberly Rios, the study’s co-author, told the Daily Mail.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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