Recent polls and surveys by reputable organizations gauge the prevalence of sexual harassment and the feelings Americans have about it.
Shifting Attitudes About Reporting Sexual Harassment
The 2017 Takeaway-Harris poll, which surveyed 2,138 adults over the age of 18, shows that women are more comfortable speaking out about sexual harassment and challenging their abusers as a result of the Me Too movement’s attention to sexual harassment. Over 60% of those surveyed believe that they can speak up because they know they are not alone, over 50% because their abusers can be held accountable, over 40% because the negative stigma against speaking up is decreasing, and over 20% because employers are more supportive. While the results of this poll are encouraging, sexual harassment continues to be a serious problem both in and out of the workplace
How Prevalent is Sexual Harassment?
One 2018 survey by Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women and 43% of men experience some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. This study found verbal sexual harassment to be the most common for women (77%), followed by unwelcome sexual touching (51%), cyber-sexual harassment (41%), being physically followed (34%), unwanted genital flashing (30%), and sexual assault (27%).
For men, verbal sexual harassment is also the most common (34%), followed by cyber-sexual harassment (22%), unwelcome sexual touching (17%), being physically followed (12%), unwanted genital flashing (12%), and sexual assault (7%).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that it has received over 12,000 charges of sex-based harassment allegations every year, including sexual harassment each year since 2010. Men file about 16% of these charges. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the State agency that polices the workplace to eliminate discrimination and harassment, reports that, of the 24,779 complaints it received in 2017, reports of sex and gender “hate” violence are common. The DFEH reports that 40% of complaints it receives under the California Ralph Civil Rights Act, a law that prohibits hate violence, concern the sex or gender of the victim. In spite of these statistics, a March 2019 Gallup Poll reports that only 70% of women and only 53% of men believe that workplace sexual harassment is a major problem. According to that same poll, 48% of women say they were sexually harassed (up six points since 2017). While 61% of women think people are not sensitive enough to report harassment, only 46% of men feel the same way.
The Perception Gap Between Ages and Genders
Between 2017 and 2019, hundreds of high-profile men in the USA have been accused of sexual misconduct. According YouGov, which surveyed 1,000 Americans online about their exposure to sexual harassment, 61% of women willing to discuss the subject reported sexual harassment by a man. YouGov reports that 38% of Millennial women claim to have been victims of sexual harassment in recent years, more than Gen X women (28%) and Baby Boomer women (9%). Of the frequency of the various forms sexual harassment takes, 52% of the women YouGov interviewed say someone has commented on their attractiveness when speaking to them, 46% say someone looked at their breasts, 44% say someone directed a sexual joke at them, and 39% say they have been cat-called. Only 43% of men in this survey believe that looking at a woman’s breasts is sexual harassment. The YouGov survey results suggest that Millennials are more likely than Gen X and Baby Boomers to view a man placing his hand on a women’s lower back or asking a woman out for a drink as sexual harassment.
In October of 2019, the Association of American Universities (AAU) conducted a Campus Climate Survey on sexual assault and misconduct. This survey included 181,752 students from 33 colleges and universities. 13% of the participants claim to have suffered non-consensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent at school. The rate of such harassment has increased from 2015 to 2019 by 3%.