Americans’ views on sexual harassment and its severity appear to be changing as each day brings to light a new set of allegations against another powerful person. However, a recent Gallup poll on sexual harassment reveals just how far we have to go when it comes to how concerned Americans are with this issue, one that’s permeated our conversations as of late and our culture for far too long.
It’s important to recognize the strides we’ve made as a country when it comes to our views on sexual harassment as a whole. According to Gallup’s recent poll, 69 percent of the country agrees that workplace sexual harassment is a “major problem” in the United States. Less than a decade ago, we were significantly more divided in our views with only 50 percent of Americans calling sexual harassment in the workplace a “major problem” in a 1998 poll.
That number shifts when you compare views held among men versus women. 73 percent of women believe it’s a major problem, specifically when talking about “the number of women who face sexual harassment in the workplace.” 66 percent of men say the same. While still a majority, that number is three percent less than the national average.
The statistics on workplace sexual harassment suggest just how severe the problem continues to be. A poll from YouGov conducted earlier this year estimated one in three women have experienced workplace sexual harassment. As reported by the NSVRC, a 2011 study put that number closer to four in ten women. Other surveys suggest the number could be as high as six in ten.
If you’ve been on social media at any point in the past couple months, those numbers likely come as little surprise. People have shared an overwhelming amount of stories about their experience with sexual harassment and assault using the hashtag #MeToo. The list of men who have been accused of sexual harassment, specifically since the public allegations against Harvey Weinstein, is equally overwhelming. Perhaps unsurprising, but overwhelming just the same.
Despite what these numbers suggest and the ways our cultural conversation is starting to shift, a significant number of people unfortunately still don’t think workplace sexual harassment is that big of an issue.
Three In Ten Americans Believe People Are “Too Sensitive” When It Comes To Workplace Sexual Harassment
According to Gallup, nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t think we’re sensitive enough when it comes to how we treat sexual harassment in the workplace. However, a significant number of people said the opposite, with 30 percent of Americans saying we’re “too sensitive” about the issue.
When we look at gender breakdowns, that number is mirrored among both men and women: 33 percent of men and 28 percent of women say people in the workplace are “too sensitive” about sexual harassment.
Perhaps this number may have shifted in recent weeks. (Gallup’s poll was conducted in late October of this year prior to some of the more recent public allegations against Louis C.K. and Al Franken.) However, the statistics do seem in line with the way our culture has continued to treat people who come forward as survivors of sexual assault.
If this public support of sexual assault victims feels unprecedented, statistics regarding reported cases will tell you why: an estimated 75 percent of workplace sexual harassment goes unreported and 75 percent of workplace sexual harassment victims who do report their case face retaliation. If you need further evidence of this very recent cultural shift, look no further than the way we've responded to previous allegations against powerful men. (If you need further evidence still, may I direct your attention to the White House?)
When Will We Start Believing Women?
It would be remiss to not acknowledge the ways we seem to be shifting as a culture. This shift can be evidenced by the widespread reaction to Lena Dunham’s recent defense of a Girls writer who was accused of alleged sexual assault. (Dunham has since apologized for her statement, noting her “wrong timing.”) It can also be seen in the reception to Gabby Douglas’ tweet regarding supporting sexual assault survivors, which many viewed as victim-blaming. (Douglas has also apologized for her tweet and recently spoke out about her own experience with sexual assault.)
This recent poll from Gallup is reminiscent of another recent survey which found that one in ten people believe gender equality has “gone too far.” When broken down by demographics, that number increases to 13 percent among men and to 18 percent among Republicans. When asked about issues most linked to the overall disparity in gender equality, the most-cited issue was workplace inequality.
A problem does not disappear simply because people don’t believe it exists and, make no mistake, a greater problem does exist. If we want to work towards finding a solution, to curing our culture of its problematic ideas about consent, and to addressing the epidemic levels of sexual harassment and assault in our society, we need to start by agreeing that a significant issue exists in the first place.