Development of a Short Form Measure of Sexual Harassment Risk in the Military

Findings from the RAND Military Workplace Study

by Terry L. Schell, Matthew Cefalu, Andrew R. Morral

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Research Questions

  1. Could a short version of RAND's sexual harassment measure be developed to accurately identify individuals' exposure to sexual harassment in the military services?
  2. Would such a short version lose precision when compared with estimates that can be obtained from the longer survey?

In 2014, RAND developed a new version of the survey used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to estimate the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment. More than 115,000 active-component members completed that survey in the summer of 2014. Subsequently, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense asked RAND whether a short version of the sexual harassment measure in the new survey could be developed for use in the Organizational Climate Surveys fielded by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. Whereas the sexual harassment instrument in the survey RAND developed required up to 52 questions to establish whether a service member experienced sexual harassment as defined in DoD regulations, in this short report the authors document a five-question measure that reliably predicts scores on the longer instrument. The five-item sexual harassment survey seems to be appropriate for use in military organizational climate surveys. The current report documents the suggested scoring of the short form instrument and demonstrates the close association between the short and full instruments when used to assess sexual harassment at either the individual or organizational level.

Key Findings

A short survey can reliably predict individuals' exposure to sexual harassment as would be determined using the longer survey instrument

  • The precision of estimates made with the short measure declines only slightly when it is used to estimate full-scale sexual harassment prevalence within service branches.

The short instrument has both advantages and disadvantages over the full measure

  • It is recommended for situations in which there are substantial concerns about respondent burden.
  • But one of its disadvantages is that the long form survey is preferred whenever the content validity of the measure needs to be defended or where the loss of precision from using the short form survey would be a major source of overall error in the estimates.

Recommendations

  • The short form survey version is recommended for situations in which there are substantial concerns about respondent burden.
  • Its use is also recommended in small sample sizes, in which the loss of precision has minimal effect on total survey error.
  • The long form measure is recommended whenever the content validity of the measure needs to be defended or where the loss of precision from using the short form survey would be a major source of overall error in the estimates.

This research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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