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January 15, 2018

How one psychologist created a ‘Likelihood to Sexually Harass’ scale

Psychology Sexual Assault
harvey weinstein PA Images/SIPA USA

Harvey Weinstein.

Though the public consciousness of sexual assault has skyrocketed in recent months, psychologists have been studying the behavior and common traits of rapists and assailants for decades.

Beginning most prominently in the 1980s, around the time the term “date rape” was coined by professor Mary Koss, many psychologists and scientific researchers tried to understand what, if any, were common traits that made a person more likely to be a sexual assailant. It was in during that time that John Pryor, now a psychologist from Illinois State University, created the “Likelihood to Sexually Harass Scale,” a different kind of measuring tool that has breathed new life in the wake of today’s sexual harassment allegations.

When Pryor created the scale, he focused specifically on how likely people would rape “if they thought they could get away with it,” he told NPR.

In this way, the scale focuses specifically on men in a place of power and their likelihood to use sexual coercion, which describes the majority of allegations against Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein. This could be some kind of bribe or a threat in exchange for the victim’s compliance.

When he first created the scale, Pryor asked college men what they would do in certain situations at potential jobs – would they promote the most attractive woman on their team? Would they ask to discuss a job promotion over dinner? – and measure how consistent their answers were. In most cases, men inclined to say yes were more inclined to continue saying yes in similar situations.

As the #MeToo movement continues to gain traction, so has Pryor’s long-running prediction scale. Despite the renewed attention, Pryor said the revelations are not entirely unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all that many women across all different kinds of walks of life are coming forth to say this has happened to them, because we know that the majority of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace,” Pryor told NPR.

Last month, the Washington Post posted a sample quiz of Pryor’s scale, which you can check out here. Listen to Pryor’s full segment with NPR here.