Outrage management in cases of sexual harassment as revealed in judicial decisions



Publication Details

McDonald, P., Graham, T. & Martin, B. 2010, 'Outrage management in cases of sexual harassment as revealed in judicial decisions', Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 165-180.


Sexual harassment can be conceptualized as a series of interactions between harassers and targets that either inhibit or increase outrage by third parties. The outrage management model predicts the kinds of actions likely to be used by perpetrators to minimize outrage, predicts the consequences of failing to use these tactics - namely backfire, and recommends countertactics to increase outrage. Using this framework, our archival study examined outrage-management tactics reported as evidence in 23 judicial decisions of sexual harassment cases in Australia. The decisions contained precise, detailed information about the circumstances leading to the claim; the events which transpired in the courtroom, including direct quotations; and the judges' interpretations and findings. We found evidence that harassers minimize outrage by covering up the actions, devaluing the target, reinterpreting the events, using official channels to give an appearance of justice, and intimidating or bribing people involved. Targets can respond using countertactics of exposure, validation, reframing, mobilization of support, and resistance. Although there are limitations to using judicial decisions as a source of information, our study points to the value of studying tactics and the importance to harassers of minimizing outrage from their actions. The findings also highlight that, given the limitations of statutory and organizational protections in reducing the incidence and severity of sexual harassment in the community, individual responses may be effective as part of a multilevel response in reducing the incidence and impact of workplace and sexual harassment as a gendered harm.

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