Eighty-one percent of women experience sexual harassment, one study found. In 2021, it's still all too rampant.
Most women either have experienced it firsthand because they were harassed or know someone else who is a victim of sexual harassment. And while every sexual harassment case after sexual harassment case may not be surprising, it is disturbing and workplace sexual harassment is leading to a whole onslaught of other issues like post-traumatic stress disorder in victims who are now coping with the aftermath.
The viral hashtag #MeToo and the recent and increasing number of sexual assault allegations from many different industries make the prevalence of sexual assault in the workplace even more obvious. And we have the data to back it up. Companies are taking action to put sexual harassment training in place and establish a sexual harassment policy they see fit, but women like Sheryl Sandberg suggest that the solution to stopping the cycle of sexual abuse and sex discrimination is to hire more women.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a government agency tasked with enforcing the laws that make harassment at work illegal, released a 2016 report detailing the findings of "The Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace."
The findings around sexual assault/harassment in the workplace are particularly shocking. Here are five of the most alarming stats surrounding workplace sexual harassment.
1. Forty-five percent of the EEOC’s harassment claims were sex-based.
In FY2015, the EEOC received over 28,000 harassment claims for both private and public employers (e.g. government). A majority of this 45 percent was sex-based claims. Other types of harassment claims included harassment on the basis of race, disability, age, national origin and religion.
While sex-based claims include sexual harassment, gender identity and sexual orientation, a majority of the sex-based harassment claims were due to sexual harassment. Even though many harassment claims go unreported (see below), those that are reported are overwhelmingly due to sexual harassment. If someone is asking for a sexual favor, making any kind of sexual advance or doing anything in a sexual nature at work, it would be considered harassment.
2. At least 25% of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Let that sink in. At least one in four women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. And the EEOC’s study found that, in some reports, that number is as high as 85%.
The difference in the range of percentages comes from differences in types of sampling and how respondents and/or researchers define the term sexual harassment.
Whether it is 25% or 85% of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, however, it is still a disturbingly high percentage that we can’t ignore.
3. Nearly 56% of harassment victims experienced retaliation when they reported it.
When reports come out that a person or people have experienced sexual harassment, the most common responses include “Why didn’t she say anything?” or ”Why didn’t she report it?”.
Victim advocates, and anyone who has experienced workplace harassment, know that the most common reason is that they worry that not only will they not be believed, but also that they’ll be fired.
The EEOC reports that in 2020, retaliation was still the most frequently cited harassment complaint.
Other studies show that organizations respond to sexual harassment reports specifically by inaction or minimizing.
These numbers make it clear that workplaces aren’t doing enough to protect employees, particularly women, from reporting harassment.
4. Somewhere between 87 and 94% of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint.
Considering that the number of employees who report harassment experience retaliation, it’s not surprising that many choose not to take any type of formal action against a harasser.
Evidently, however, this depends on a sexual harassment complaint. Some types of harassing behavior are reported more than others. One study found that sexually coercive behavior is reported about 30% of the time, while unwanted physical touching is only reported 8% of the time.
5. Sexual harassment costs companies millions.
Sexual harassment affects a business’ bottom line. in 2015, the EEOC "recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment claims." But, beyond that, employers face other direct costs in addition to legal fees.
Hostile work environments lead to an unproductive workforce, increased turnover and harm to the company’s reputation. All of these take extensive time and money to repair. And, regardless, all employees deserve to feel safe and supported at work. We know from these sexual harassment statistics, however, that they don't necessarily feel safe.
If you or someone you know wishes to file a sexual harassment claim through the EEOC, please visit https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm for more information. Consult your company's sexual harassment policy to file a sexual harassment complaint through your work, as well.
Jennifer Koza is a social worker specializing in program development. By day she is a research and evaluation analyst, committed to preventing violence against women and studying the value of work and workplaces. By night she is a painter- or at least she tries to be when she's not catching up on t.v./movies (or re-watching The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, or The Office).