There are many reasons why the statistics on workplace sexual harassment reveal an all too common reality in the United States. As a culture, we can’t seem to agree on what is and what is not consent, and in turn, what constitutes harassment or assault. The way we societally respond to (or, more often, ignore) people who say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted is in part the reason why people hesitate to report in the first place.
The conversation surrounding workplace sexual harassment has taken up much of the spotlight following news that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to Fox News. The announcement came after an exodus of advertisers pulled spots in light of the recently revealed $13 million in settlements O’Reilly and Fox have reportedly paid in lawsuits related to alleged sexual harassment claims and other complaints from former Fox News employees. (O’Reilly continues to deny the allegations, writing on his website, "Just like other prominent and controversial people, I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.")
While there are laws that prohibit workplace sexual harassment (“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” all violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), it still happens frequently and often without consequence. The most up-to-date statistics on workplace sexual violence, including harassment, are hard to come by as it is goes wildly underreported. The same is true for the overall statistics on sexual assault. This in combination with the common truth that companies still don’t know how to handle sexual harassment makes conversations about its reality difficult.
Workplace sexual harassment is real, and it is likely happening more often than many think. In order to end it, we need to start by talking about the reality of the situation. Here are 14 statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace that show how much of a problem it is.
1. 75 percent of workplace sexual harassment goes unreported.
This number, as reported by The Guardian, fluctuates between 60 percent and 75 percent given lack of reporting and research on workplace sexual harassment. However, with an estimated 90 percent of overall incidents of sexual violence going unreported, this statistic is likely low.
2. Women between the ages of 25 and 34 are the most likely age demographic to experience sexual harassment at work.
This information comes from a 2011 study on sexual harassment, based on information from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
3. Women are the victims in 80 percent of workplace sexual assault incidents
A report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) stated eight in 10 victims of workplace sexual assault are female.
4. Anywhere between 38 and 60 percent of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment
5. Of people that experienced workplace sexual harassment, one in four reported receiving lewd texts or emails.
In a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan, 80 percent of respondents who said they’d been sexually harassed at work reported that the harassment involved something said aloud. Forty-four percent said they had experienced unwanted sexual advances and touching.
6. 16 percent of women who said “no” when asked if they’d experienced workplace sexual harassment responded “yes” when asked if they’d experienced a sexually explicit or sexist remark.
The same survey from Cosmopolitan revealed a lack of clarity of what sexual harassment actually is, with some respondents not classifying “sexually explicit or sexist remarks” as harassment. According to Title VII, they both can fall under the category of sexual harassment.
7. Over half of reported sexual harassment allegations result in no charge.
In a 2016 report from the EEOC, 54.1 percent of workplace sexual harassment allegations were dropped as they were found to have “no reasonable charge.” However, dropped charges are not the same as someone being found innocent.
8. In 2016, 9.4 percent of workplace sexual harassment allegations resulted in settlements.
Cases in which allegations result in a paid settlement are more common than charges being found to have “reasonable cause.” (Only 5.7 percent of allegations were found to have “reasonable cause.”)
9. 90 percent of women in the restaurant industry have been sexually harassed at work.
As reported by MSNBC, a survey from Restaurant Opportunities Center-United found that nine in 10 female restaurant workers say they’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment.
10. A survey among the the tech industry found 60 percent of women experienced sexual harassment.
The Elephant in the Valley is a study from 2016 looking at discrimination against women in STEM fields. Of the women who said they’d experienced sexual harassment, 65 percent said they’d received advances from a superior. Half of respondents said they’d received unwanted sexual advances more than once. You can see the full report and read their stories here.
11. In 2010, 80 percent of female immigrant workers reported some form of sexual harassment.
A study presented by NSVRC and ASISTA looked at the prevalence of workplace sexual assault among some of the most vulnerable demographics, including immigrant workers on farms. They found eight in 10 female workers who are immigrants reported workplace sexual harassment.
12. 44 percent of female federal employees women had experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.
The same is true for 19 percent of men. Workplace sexual harassment persists regardless of the industry.
13. In a study on the restaurant industry, 60 percent of workers who are transgender reported experiencing “scary” or “unwanted” sexual behavior.
The study found the same to be true for 50 percent of women and 47 percent of men.
14. Of workers in low-wage positions, black women were more likely to report having experienced sexual harassment.
Twenty-eight percent of black women working low-wage positions said they’d been sexually harassed at work, compared to 21 percent of white women and 17 percent of Latinas.
Ending sexual violence as a whole entails addressing its reality, where it’s happening and who it is happening to. Being confronted by these statistics is not easy, but it is necessary in order to prevent sexual harassment from happening everywhere. From examining the way we talk about consent to the severity with which allegations of assault are met, we can all work towards a reality where sexual violence does not persist.