Are They Really Helping Them to “Get Over It”? Bystander Behavior After Sexual Harassment Incidents in the Fashion Industry

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Sexual harassment is a problem that continues to confront mostly women in the American workforce. One of the primary ways to reduce its prevalence and impact is through bystander intervention. A bystander is familiar with the incident and ultimately decides whether to proactively intervene, do nothing, or actually cause further damage to the victim by siding with the perpetrator. While bystanders can become engaged both prior to and during a sexually harassing event, or at the primary and secondary levels of prevention, they can also be involved after the incident, or at the tertiary level of prevention. This present study addressed tertiary prevention in real-life sexual harassment cases drawn from the fashion industry, whereby female models—as independent contractors represented by agencies and with few labor rights—were the victims, powerful men in the business were the key perpetrators, and other actors were the bystanders. Using thematic analysis to understand 18 accounts of harassment, this research identified bystander support from personal associates and some modeling agencies as institutions in the form of emotional resources and action-oriented advocacy. However, other modeling agencies more commonly engaged in bystander opposition, whereby they silenced their models who complained of harassment or continued to send models to work with known perpetrators in the business. This study thus draws attention to the ways in which some bystanders can help, but others can cause further harm through their particular employment relationships with victims that promote worker precarity. Implications for practitioners and public policy reforms for this industry are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1704-1730
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


  • bystander intervention
  • sexual harassment
  • tertiary level of prevention
  • workplace violence


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