News and Commentary

What Counts As Sexual Harassment These Days?

According to a new study from Ventura, California based research company The Barna Group, only 12% of men and 12% of women believe that “light-hearted flirting” is sexual harassment. In the study, conducted soon after the Harvey Weinstein allegations started becoming public in early October of this year, Barna asked men and women across the country what they considered sexual harassment and how many people had been sexually harassed.

The study shows the vast differences between the sexes, with women being more prone to think that someone blocking their path during walking constitutes harassment. 63% of women viewed “having your path blocked” as harassment where only 49% of men did. Additionally, pinching or poking, something that men can do in certain scenarios to each other (We’ve all seen dudes smack and slap each other, too) was viewed as harassment by 77% of women and 68% of men. Understandably, women being poked or pinched by a man is a direct invasion of personal space and if the victim is female, having a man do that to you is disturbing.

Over 50% of the women surveyed viewed “following” as a form of harassment; the vast majority of men and women viewed the following actions as wrong:

  • Having someone flash or expose themselves (M 76% W, 89%)
  • Making sexual comments about looks and body (M 70% W, 86%)
  • Persistence in asking someone out on a date after being told no (M 47%, W 58%)

Even in the hi-tech age of 2017, where many job roles and people’s personal lives include social media, only 22% of harassment on social media was noticed by those polled.

Among those who have personally been harassed, have witnessed a harassment or know someone who has been harassed, the nature of that behavior was primarily either verbal (77%) or physical (67%), as opposed to online or through social media (22%).

People were more likely to report harassment if it was via social media (50% of those who experienced it said they reported the acts.) As the Barna recap notes, this could be because it was in a more public forum and therefore there was proof of the incident and there was less chance of retaliation.

Other things on the list that a smaller group of men and women viewed as sexual harassment were :

  • Someone making a sexual joke (M 32%, W 46%)
  • Snickering or laughing disrespectfully (M 22%, W 32%)
  • Winking (M 12%, W 16%)

Unfortunately, as we have seen with the wave of Hollywood, media and political cases of sexual harassment, many go unreported. Barna’s study backs up this sad statistic: “a staggering six in 10 say all types of sexual harassment went unreported.”

Often we have seen how on both sides of the aisle, victims are given more negative attention than the men who assaulted them. And in the case of workplace harassment (as we’ve seen with Congress’ secret payout system or Fox News’ cover-up for their top cable news host), Human Resources is more interested in protecting the interest of the person in power or company’s bottom line than the person coming forward with an issue.

There is still reason to be hopeful! A study from 2017 showed that the majority of couples still meet each other through friends. But, the second most common place to meet a romantic partner is still in the work place. So, keep up the winking, compliments and flirting at the office folks. You could meet your future spouse there.