Stranger and nonstranger harassment: coping strategies and barriers to support seeking


  • J. Menssink
  • L. Ricciardelli
  • L. Satyen
  • M. McCabe


Background: Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue disproportionately affecting women. The high incidence of sexual harassment and associated negative outcomes constitutes a significant public health problem that needs to be examined in health psychology. Recent studies utilising Stress-Coping theory suggest women cope differently with sexual harassment depending on the context and relationship with perpetrator. The current study was designed to examine women’s coping in response to sexual harassment perpetrated by strangers and known persons (i.e. nonstrangers). Methods: A mixed methods design was used, with 727 participants who completed validated measures and open-ended questions in an online survey. Open-ended questions focused on how women coped with harassment and barriers to support seeking. Data were analysed using SPSS and NVivo. Findings: Preliminary findings revealed that 84% of the sample experienced both forms of sexual harassment in the past two years. On average participants first experienced sexual harassment at the age of 13-14 years old. Passive coping strategies were most commonly employed in both contexts. Thematic analyses revealed key barriers to support seeking were victim blaming, shame and normalisation. A core theme was also having struggled to cope with sexual harassment at a young age. Discussion: Women used a range of coping strategies, however, consistent with past research passive coping was most frequently used. Qualitative findings revealed multiple barriers to support seeking and limited knowledge of coping options when young. Further research is needed to better understand adolescents’ experiences of sexual harassment and coping in order to inform interventions for this vulnerable population.





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