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Abstract

To oppose sexual harassment, it is useful to understand tactics commonly used by perpetrators. A useful approach to tactics is through the concept of backfire: if an action is perceived as unjust and information about it is communicated to receptive audiences, it has the capacity to cause outrage and consequently backfire on the perpetrator. Perpetrators regularly use five types of tactics to inhibit outrage: (1) cover-up of the action; (2) devaluation of the target; (3) reinterpretation of the events; (4) use of official channels to give the appearance of justice; and (5) intimidation and bribery of targets, witnesses and others. These tactics are regularly used against targets of sexual harassment. The deployment of these tactics is illustrated through the case of Anita Hill, who in 1991 accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. An analysis using the backfire framework offers guidance on effective ways of deterring and countering sexual harassment.

Note on the Author

Greg Scott, Associate lecturer, Psychology, School of Social Sciences and Liberal Studies, Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia. Greg Scott is interested in issues relating to gender equality, the role of culture in relation to psychosocial well-being, and the interface between socioeconomic and psychological change.

Brian Martin, Associate Professor Science, Technology and Society, School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication University of Wollongong, Australia. He is the author of twelve books and many articles about dissent, nonviolence, scientific controversies, democracy and other topics. He was an active member of university sexual harassment committees for 15 years.

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