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Leader Messaging and Attitudes Towards Sexual Violence

Allison Dahl Crossley

Research exploring sexual assault within universities and sexual harassment within companies has largely overlooked how leadership in organizations can shape constituents’ perceptions of sexual violence. This question has become particularly relevant as organizations are increasingly tasked with measuring and communicating about sexual violence. We use two national survey experiments to test how altering an organization’s communication of information about sexual assault or harassment affects participants’ agreement that it is a high-priority issue. In Study 1, we show that participants are strongly influenced by the way in which the leader interprets the problem of sexual violence at the organization and not by the placement of prevalence statistics in the statement. In Study 2, we identify the leader messages that are the most influential in shaping opinions about sexual assault and harassment. This research demonstrates the influence that leaders of organizations have in shaping narratives about sexual violence within them.