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Study Shows Sexual Harassment More Believable If Woman Is Attractive

University of Washington researchers unsurprisingly found that people think attractive women are more likely to be sexually harassed. In their study, the researchers asked participants to draw two women. The first picture represented a woman more likely to be harassed; the second picture represented a woman unlikely to find herself in that position. The pictures demonstrated a very narrow range of women the participants thought would likely be harassed. According to this study, harassment complaints by young, “conventionally attractive” women were more apt to be believed over women who did not fit within that stereotype. These perceived less attractive women were found “less credible” by the participants and also less likely to be damaged by the harassment. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published the study, which included 4,000 participants reviewing digitally manipulated headshots and written scenarios. The authors believe their study has implications for workplaces and courtrooms where credibility and perceived harms are so important.

The authors initiated the study after observing that the #MeToo movement did not accord the same level of attention or benefit for all women alleging harassment. The less stereotypically attractive women “were not just neglected, but not believed.” Tarana Burke, the originator of the #MeToo idea, noted that the mainstream movement often used white, attractive actresses to represent the cause. The authors hope the study will “broaden people’s perception of harassment.” They are still collecting data on how race and sexual identity play into these perceptions about harassment.