The victims of sexual harassment who have recently come forward are far from alone: Nearly half of women say they have experienced some form of it at work at least once in their careers. But there has been little research about those responsible.
In a new survey, about a third of men said they had done something at work within the past year that would qualify as objectionable behavior or sexual harassment.
The NY Times asked: In the last year at work, have you …
- Told sexual stories or jokes that some might consider offensive?
- Made remarks that some might consider sexist or offensive?
- Displayed, used or distributed materials (like videos or cartoons) that some might consider sexist or suggestive?
- Made attempts to draw someone into a discussion of sexual matters even though the person did not want to join in?
Made gestures or used body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended someone?
Continued to ask someone for dates, drinks or dinner even though he or she said no?
Made attempts to establish a romantic sexual relationship with someone despite that person’s efforts to discourage it?
Touched someone in a way that made him or her feel uncomfortable?
Made uninvited attempts to stroke, fondle or kiss someone?
Offered or implied rewards if someone engaged in sexual behavior? Or treated someone badly if he or she didn’t?
The survey — the result of a collaboration between The New York Times, leading sexual harassment researchers and the polling and media company Morning Consult — was nationally representative of men who work full time.
The percentage of men who say they performed each behavior in the last year
How many men admit to one of these actions?
The most common type of action is what researchers call gender harassment. This includes telling crude jokes or stories and sharing inappropriate videos. About 25 percent of men in the survey said they had done at least one of these things.
Another category is unwanted sexual attention: actions like touching, making comments about someone’s body and asking colleagues on dates after they’ve said no. About 10 percent of men reported such behavior. Least common is sexual coercion, which includes pressuring people into sexual acts by offering rewards or threatening retaliation. Two percent of men said they had done such a thing recently.
Some men were probably unwilling to tell the truth in the survey. But the results captured just how many admitted to some form of harassing behavior.
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 actions in the survey don’t necessarily meet the legal standard for sexual harassment. But they fall under a psychological standard that is used more often by researchers, in corporate policies and in everyday life.
Legally, harassment is considered problematic if it is severe, like groping or offering favors for a sexual interaction, or if the behavior is frequent and continuing, even if it is not severe.
“In general, frequency is the most important component,” said Louise Fitzgerald, a leading researcher on sexual harassment, who for the past 30 years has advised on the issue for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice. “Even milder forms of harassment can be extremely damaging if they happen frequently and continue over time.”
In the Times polling, 12 percent of men said that they had either engaged in at least three of the listed actions in the past year, or performed the same action at least three times. Excluding jokes or remarks cuts that figure in half.
But actions like jokes may not be entirely benign. Men who admitted to telling sexual stories or jokes were about five times as likely to report other harassing behaviors.
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