What's in a Name? The Disparate Effects of Identifiability on Offenders and Victims of Sexual Harassment
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming
63 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2018 Last revised: 25 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 14, 2019
Sexual harassment is undergoing an identification revolution, as more victims choose to forego their anonymity and divulge their identity to the public. Research in social psychology on the identifiability effect has found that identified victims typically generate more empathy and support than unidentified ones. However, this research has been limited largely to monetary donations or to unambiguous cases with uncontested facts; the scholarship has not examined the effects of varying the identifiability of both parties to a conflict.
In three large-scale experiments with a representative population (total N = 3,988), we found that in the context of sexual harassment, victims do not gain an identifiability ‘premium’ — whereas offenders do. Offenders identified by their first name only are regarded as more credible and moral and less blameworthy and responsible for the event than unidentified offenders, but the same does not apply to identified victims. Furthermore, when the offender is identified, fewer people perceive the case as involving sexual harassment (Experiment 1), and support for taking measures against the offender declines (Experiment 2). Finally, the identified offender premium exists for offenders of both sexes, but the detrimental effect of identification on victims is moderated by the victim’s mode of identification. Specifically, identified female victims who stated willingness to disclose their name publicly fared worse than those preferring that their name not be revealed in public, and the difference between active and passive identification reversed for male victims. The effect of identification mode is moderated by sexist beliefs (Experiment 3). Our results have normative implications for the appropriate balance between publicity and anonymity in various contexts, including social networks, the media, and disciplinary and judicial tribunals.
Keywords: identifiability effect, sexual harassment, agency, experimental legal studies, law & psychology, social norms, anonymity, #MeToo, metoo
JEL Classification: K14, K31, K10, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation