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Sexual Harassment Statistics: Why Your Company Shouldn’t Ignore This Problem

Sexual Harassment Statistics: Why Your Company Shouldn't Ignore This Problem

We collected dozens of sexual harassment statistics from various surveys, polls and questionnaires to learn more about the victims and prevalence of sexual harassment.

We’ve collected sexual harassment statistics from various surveys, polls, and questionnaires to learn more about the victims and prevalence of workplace sexual harassment.

All it takes is a quick Google search of sexual harassment statistics to see that sexual is on our streets, in our offices, in our homes and, lately, it’s all over our screens.

According to one survey by the Government of Canada, 30 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past two years. The respondents also indicated that they had experienced these incidents more than once, pointing to a pattern of behavior that was ongoing.

Based on these numbers, on a team of six analysts, lawyers, or welders, two of them have likely faced sexual harassment at work.

But a single poll only shows us one piece, not the whole pie, which is why we’re digging deep and looking at various sexual harassment statistics.

So, to understand the gravity of the problem, here’s all the sexual harassment statistics we could find.

Note: These statistics come from numerous sources with different methodologies, dates, and participants. It’s the reader’s responsibility to interpret and judge the validity of the findings.

A strong sexual harassment policy can improve employee relations, office culture, and your company's reputation.

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How Common is Sexual Harassment?

At work:

According to statistics compiled by Zippia, it’s estimated that 54 per cent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, including behaviors such as unwanted touching, requests for sexual favors, catcalls, and sexually suggestive gestures.

However, between 58 per cent and 72 per cent of victims do not report. The choice not to report is primarily driven by fear of retaliation, possible job loss or being known as a “troublemaker.”

EEOC reports that from 2018 to 2021, the total number of sexual harassment charges rose three per cent over the previous three years.

A 2018 study by  non-profit Stop Street Harassment found that 81 per cent of women have been victims of sexual harassment. That same study reported that:

  • 77 per cent of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment.
  • 51 per cent of women had been sexually touched without permission.
  • 41 per cent said they had been sexually harassed online.
  • 27 per cent said they had survived sexual assault.

Anita Hill, an academic and attorney, stated that “45 per cent of employees in the private workforce say they experience sexual harassment” and that the majority of victims are women.

The Canadian Labour Congress reported that nearly seven in 10 workers have experienced a form of harassment and violence in the workplace. Nearly one in two had experienced sexual harassment and violence in the past two years.

When looking at data from individual countries from 2019, 68 percent of women surveyed in Germany reported having been exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace over the course of their lifetime. The lifetime number was similar in Spain (66 per cent), however, when asked who had been exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace in the past 12 months, 31 per cent indicated they had.

A designated sexual harassment complaint form makes it easier for employees to file complaints and have their voice heard.

If you don’t have one, borrow this free form template.

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On the street:

In 2021, an IPSOS study found that 80 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Also of note was that 76 percent of the people surveyed reported witnessing public sexual harassment.

The same study provided a breakdown of the types of street harassment women have experienced, with the most common types being listed as:

  • Staring, leering, inappropriate and unwanted gestures: 57 per cent
  • Sexually suggestive comments or jokes about their body: 52 per cent
  • Whistling, catcalling, lip smacking, and animal noises: 49 per cent
  • Pressure to go on a date or provide one’s phone number or other personal information: 45 per cent

A separate study in Europe found that 72 per cent of women were the victims of sexual harassment by someone they didn’t know, with most incidents happening when out in public.

On public transportation:

In one 2018 survey that looked at the public transport system in New York City, researchers found 75 per cent of female respondents reported experiencing harassment (including sexual) and theft while using public transportation.

In the UK, sexual harassment on the London Underground increased 42 per cent between 2015 and 2019.

In a 2022 survey focused on harassment that occurred on the Toronto Transit System, it was found that 86 per cent of riders had experienced some form of harassment. Women (59 per cent) were more than twice as likely as men (22 per cent) to experience unwanted sexual looks or gestures.

In general:

Geographical area can also be a factor in sexual harassment, with 26 per cent of women in rural communities reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, versus 21 per cent in urban and 18 per cent in suburban areas.

Women who rely on tips as their primary source of income are twice as likely to be sexually harassed.

In male-dominated industries, women disproportionately report sexual harassment. The EEOC found that in certain industries, more than 80 per cent of the complaints filed were by female employees. Industries that see a high percentage of sexual harassment complaints include:

  • Finance and insurance
  • Public administration
  • Administration and support

In the two years following the the prominent #MeToo social media movement, EEOC saw a significant increase in sexual harassment reports, due to people being inspired to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment.

What are the Common Acts?

The three most common forms of sexual harassment at work, according to Atlantic Training are sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment.

In 2019, a joint national study noted that 76 per cent of women had been victims of verbal sexual harassment. Other types of sexual harassment experienced by women included:

  • Unwelcome sexual touching: 49 per cent
  • Cyber sexual harassment: 40 per cent
  • Unwanted genital exposure: 30 per cent
  • Being physically followed: 27 per cent
  • Sexual assault: 23 per cent

Comparatively, in the same survey, the statistics for men were much lower, with 35 per cent of men reporting they had been the victim of sexual harassment.

Do you know the definitions and signs of different harassment types?

Learn more about 11 different types of harassment such as verbal, physical, power, and quid pro quo in our free cheat sheet.

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No One Knows What “Sexual Harassment” Means

When examining sexual harassment statistics, one thing that becomes apparent is that often there is disparity in how women and men perceive sexual harassment.

A survey conducted by The Barna Group found major differences in the ways that men and women view sexual harassment.

When presented with a list of 20 behaviors (ranging from groping to whistling), in all but one case men were less likely than women to label an act as sexual harassment.

The one exception was a tie: 12 per cent of men and women labeled light-hearted flirting as sexual harassment.

A good illustration of this point is how someone pushing against you on public transit was seen as sexual harassment by 70 per cent of women, however, only 52 per cent of men thought so.

The genders also disagreed on sexual comments about a person’s looks or body. Here, 86 per cent of women said it was sexual harassment, versus 70 per cent of men.

This is the case worldwide.

The Ottawa Citizen reported that 83 per cent of male survey respondents said being asked out repeatedly by a coworker (after they already said no) is sexual harassment. Interestingly, fewer females agreed with that notion (78 per cent).

In that same survey, 27 per cent of women said making comments about clothing or appearance is sexual harassment. 18 per cent of men agreed.

What are the Trends?

Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center states that women experience harassment more when they work in industries where they’re seen as “out of place” (like construction). Low- paying jobs (like a nanny) and service-based industries (like fast food) also see higher than average levels of harassment.

Safer America compiled various sexual harassment statistics to highlight which industries see the highest occurrences of sexual harassment.

  • Restaurants and hospitality make up roughly 25 per cent of all sexual harassment reports filed to EEOC.
  • Nursing accounts for nearly 12 per cent of EEOC sexual harassment reports.
    • While 60 per cent of nurses have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, only 27 per cent decided to report it to their employer.
  • 58 per cent of people in academia (students, staff and faculty) reported having been sexually harassed.
    • Women aged 18 to 24 enrolled in college are three times more likely than any other group of women to be sexual assault victims.
    • Medical students also reported that 36 per cent of them had experienced sexual harassment from faculty and staff.

Of the different industries where sexual harassment is more common, the military continues to see one of the biggest disparities between the genders when looking at sexual harassment statistics.

  • Among active duty women, 23 per cent experience sexual harassment, versus four per cent of men.
  • Among veterans, 41 per cent of women reported sexual harassment or assault, while four per cent men have.

Why Are Victims Staying Silent?

There are many factors that can influence a victim’s choice to stay quiet about being sexually harassed—cultural or societal norms, religion, fear of retaliation, fear of judgement, thinking it won’t make a difference, and more.

In an article written to address the barriers to reporting faced by women, one UK survey cited said that of the 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 who had indicated they had been sexually harassed, 96 per cent of them did not report.

To encourage reporting in your organization, try taking these steps:

  • Write (and enforce) a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy
  • Include a no-retaliation promise in your employee code of conduct
  • Remind employees of your reporting mechanisms (e.g. hotline, webform, etc.)
  • Reward employees whose reports lead to the investigation and discipline of a harasser

The Costs of Sexual Harassment

The true cost of sexual harassment isn’t fully accounted for when looking at sexual harassment statistics.

While numbers like loss of wages or benefits can be forecasted, there are other costs that can never be fully calculated, like the loss of earning potential from having your career derailed due to sexual harassment.

In 2021, the TIME’S UP Foundation and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research partnered together on a new report, "Paying Today and Tomorrow: Charting the Financial Costs of Workplace Sexual Harassment." A key finding from the report was that sexual harassment in the workplace can cost an individual anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1.3 million over a lifetime.

Between 2018 and 2021, EEEO recovered an estimated 300 million dollars for individuals with sexual harassment claims through resolved charge receipts and in litigation.

While it is hopeful to see some victims get financial compensation for their sexual harassment claims, these numbers only reflect the small percentage of sexual harassment that is actually reported and complaints that are pursued.

Tips for Better Sexual Harassment Investigations

As you see from the sexual harassment statistics shared, this type of harassment continues to be a pervasive problem in the workplace and elsewhere.

As an employer, it's critical that you ensure your policies are well documented, that your investigations are executed quickly and thoroughly, and that your employees feel confident reporting without fear.

If your organization is looking for guidance on how to conduct more effective sexual harassment investigations, this cheat sheet below shares best practices for gathering information, tips for staying objective and patient before determining conclusions, and more.

Read our complete guide on how to conduct a sexual harassment investigation here.

Want tips on how to conduct more efficient, effective sexual harassment investigations?

Download our free cheat sheet to make your workplace safer.

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How Case IQ Can Help

If you’re still simply reacting to workplace harassment, you’re putting your organization, your employees, and your reputation at risk.

Case IQ’s powerful case management software lets you analyze historic case data so you can take preventive measures, reducing future incidents.

Case IQ is a flexible and configurable solution that can be integrated with your existing reporting systems and third-party hotlines, ensuring no reports slip through the cracks.

Learn more about how Case IQ can reduce resolution time and improve your organization’s investigations here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of people have been sexually harassed?

Sexual harassment affects a significant portion of the population, with various surveys and studies indicating that a substantial number of individuals, particularly women, have experienced sexual harassment in different settings.

What percent of females are sexually harassed?

According to sexual harassment statistics compiled from multiple sources, a considerable percentage of females, ranging from 54% to 81%, have reported experiencing sexual harassment, with incidents including verbal harassment, unwanted touching, and online harassment.

Who is more likely to be sexually harassed?

Women, especially those working in industries where they are perceived as "out of place," low-paying jobs, and service-based sectors, are more likely to experience sexual harassment. Additionally, individuals in male-dominated industries and those who rely on tips as their primary source of income are disproportionately affected by sexual harassment.