As the debate has raged about sexual harassment in the months since allegations of abuse by producer Harvey Weinstein hit headlines, questions have emerged about whether seemingly “lesser” experiences have been lumped in with more serious ones in a rush to judgment.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in December found that while most American adults agree that intentional groping or kissing without consent constitutes sexual harassment, they disagree on whether compliments on appearance (38 percent said yes; 47 percent said no) and dirty jokes (41 percent said yes; 44 percent said no) amount to the same.

“There’s a common assumption of a hierarchy of abuse. People often assume that gender harassment is a lesser offense; these are just words and insults and derogatory terms of address that don’t rise to the level of physical behavior or violence,” said Lilia Cortina, professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Michigan. “But actually, when we compare that assumption to the research records, it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.”

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances and verbal harassment, though teasing, offhand comments and isolated incidents only become illegal when repetitive or pervasive.

But new research suggests that isolated comments, lingering stares, and far more minor behaviors that send devaluing messages can cause a negative psychological impact as serious as the effects of physical or other types of harassment.

Read the full article at the Detroit Free Press.