Midwest Social Sciences Journal


Recent events have demonstrated a divergent understanding of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct. Although sociocultural standards regarding sexual misconduct have changed over time, including improved social and workplace standards and protections, it is clear that not everyone views these events through the same lens. The lens is even less clear when potential misconduct is viewed from the distinct perspectives of a “victim” and a “perpetrator.” We surveyed 424 undergraduate and graduate students at Indiana University Kokomo to identify the impact of perspective and various sociodemographic characteristics that may influence perceptions of what is, and is not, sexual misconduct. In addition, we examined if these factors also influence opinions on the severity of response toward this misconduct. Students completed a gender-neutral survey that presented eight potential sexualmisconduct scenarios in a first-person narrative. In each scenario, the fact pattern was identical, but some surveys were in the perspective of the “victim” and some were in the perspective of the “perpetrator.” We find that perspective matters, as do reported preconceived attitudes toward sexual misconduct. We also find preliminary evidence that the impact of perspective and the severity of the response may depend on whether the misconduct occurs in an organizational setting, in a date setting, or without a distinct victim.