London: Men may be more likely to victim-blame women who are sexually harassed because they have more empathy with the perpetrators, a new study suggests.
The research published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, based on two studies, compared people's reactions after reading about an incident of sexual harassment.
"Despite movements such as #MeToo, women still fear negative consequences of making a sexual harassment complaint," said study lead author Renata Bongiorno from the University of Exeter in the UK.
In the first study, men and women showed equal levels of empathy for the female victim -- but men's greater empathy for the male perpetrator explained why they were more likely than women to blame the victim.
The second study was an experiment where people were asked to focus on the man's or the woman's point of view before reading the same information.
Both men and women who focused on the male perpetrator's point of view showed greater empathy for him and blamed the female victim more.
"In our research, victim blaming was not high overall -- but consistent with past research it was higher in men than in women on average," Bongiorno said.
According to the team, it is widely assumed that a lack of empathy for female victims explains why people blame them, but the study actually found that empathy for the male sexual harasser was a more consistent explanation of variability in victim blame.
"Media reports of sexual harassment -- especially involving male perpetrators -- often focus on their point of view and the potential damage to their lives for being outed as a sexual harasser, our findings point to the damaging consequences of that focus for female victims," Bongiorno added.