New Survey Finds a Lot of Men Admit to Sexually Harassing Women at Work

A year of headlines was not enough.

Unsplash / Paul Bence

Sexual harassment was a big topic in 2017, with the #metoo movement taking over our news feeds and illustrating just how many women have experienced unwanted sexual attention — or aggression — at work.

While we’ve heard plenty of anecdotes from women this year, a new survey conducted by the New York Times together with the polling and media company Morning Consult asked 615 men about their own workplace behavior. The results show that although workplace sexual harassment has been heavily featured in the news this year, it’s still endemic in work culture.

About one third of the men surveyed said they had done something that would either qualify as “objectionable behavior” or as plain old sexual harassment in the past year.

A quarter of the respondents admitted to what’s referred to as “gender harassment,” like sharing inappropriate videos with coworkers or telling crude jokes.

Ten percent of men admitted to engaging in acts that are associated with unwanted sexual attention, like touching, asking coworkers on dates after they’ve already said no, and making comments about a coworker’s body. Yuck.

The Times claims that the survey’s 615 respondents are a solid representation of men who work full time across the U.S.

It’s definitely possible — and important to keep in mind — that survey respondents could have been downplaying the kind of workplace harassment they engage in. However, the survey was organized to elicit the truthful responses in a number of ways. First, questions about sexual harassment were mixed in with more benign workplace questions, like commuting experiences or how much a respondent uses Facebook.

Second, respondents were promised confidentiality, and the survey was conducted online — a strategy that’s been known to garner answers that may paint respondents in a more negative light than they tend to offer in phone surveys. However, the Times reports that a similar phone survey with 500 participants actually garnered nearly the same results.

What’s especially interesting is how the survey gives some insight into how many men don’t perceive their own admitted behaviors as indicative of harassment:

After answering questions about particular behaviors, the men were asked if some of their own actions might be considered harassment. Many did not identify harassing behaviors as such. But even counting only those who said yes, the survey suggests that, at a minimum, one in 25 men in the average American workplace identifies himself as a harasser. (An additional two in 25 said they did not know whether their actions could be classified in this way.)

The study also found that workplace culture can play a key role in curbing sexual harassment. Men who believe their immediate superior makes an effort to stop sexual harassment admitted to engaging in sexual harassment less than men who believed their immediate superior doesn’t do anything. As we’ve seen in Hollywood and Congress lately, perpetrators are likely to offend again and again if the establishment turns a blind eye.

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