London: Men greatly underestimate the level of sexual harassment experienced by women, according to a new survey.
When asked what proportion of women had experienced any form of sexual harassment, both male and female respondents across the US and 12 European countries, including Great Britain, underestimated the levels experienced by women.
The biggest misconceptions were held by Danish, Dutch and French respondents, who underestimated the actual level of sexual harassment in their countries by 49, 35 and 34 percentage points respectively.
The question was part of the pollster Ipsos Mori’s Perils of Perception survey, which measures the gap between the public’s understanding of issues and reality.
Europeans and Americans underestimate levels of sexual harassment towards women.
The survey was carried out after the #MeToo campaign — first ignited by the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexually abusive behaviour towards female actors — spread worldwide with women sharing their experiences online.
In Denmark, where a 2012 survey found 80 per cent of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment since the age of 15, the average answer among men was 31 per cent.
In the Netherlands — where a prominent conductor was recently fired due to allegations of sexual harassment — 73% of women reported being affected yet the average answer among men was 38%.
Both sexes underestimate sexual harassment, but this tendency is more pronounced among men
French men put the figure at 41 per cent whereas the 2012 survey found that 75 per cent of French women had been harassed. The survey was carried out just months after footage of Marie Laguerre being struck on a Paris street for responding to sexual harassment went viral.
France previously introduced legislation which include fines in an effort to combat sexual violence in the country.
In the US, where a 2018 poll found that 81 per cent of women had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives, American men’s average answer was 44 per cent.
The survey was carried out in the weeks after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against the then supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accusing him of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school, dividing opinion in the US.
Laura Bates, who set up the Everyday Sexism Project, which chronicles women’s daily experiences of gender inequality, said the lack of willingness among men to recognise the extent of sexual harassment was holding back efforts to tackle it.
She said: “That this survey comes a year after #MeToo, suggests that we have a real problem believing women and taking them seriously.
“That so many women have been brave enough to tell stories with devastating personal consequences to hear that they are still not being believed is very difficult to cope with.
“We need a critical mass of men to stand up and get involved to tackle this problem and become part of the solution.”
In Great Britain, where 68 per cent of women reported having experienced sexual harassment, the average guess was 50 per cent falling to 46 per cent among male respondents.
In the UK, unions have repeatedly said that low-paid workers were subjected to harassment and abuse so regularly that it had become entirely normalised. The situation for low-paid workers was highlighted in January when undercover journalists from the Financial Times revealed that female workers were allegedly groped, sexually harassed and propositioned by attendees of a Presidents Club charity dinner held at the Dorchester hotel.
A recent survey by the Unite union of hospitality workers in the UK found that 89% had suffered sexual harassment — of those 60% didn’t think a complaint would be taken seriously by their workplace.
A TUC survey carried out in 2016 found that half of women had been harassed at work, but four out of five had not reported it.
“I wish I could say I am surprised by these figures, but I’m not,” said the TUC’s head of equality, Alice Hood. “It is shocking but not surprising that public awareness is still so low. Although we have seen a lot more focus on the issue in the last 12 months, we have a long cultural history of not acknowledging sexual harassment so we need more transparency to push for meaningful action.”
MPs have been conducting a formal inquiry to consider tougher laws after a sexual harassment scandal enveloped Westminster and other industries including the legal profession, tech industry and retail sector.
The Ipsos Mori Perils of Perception Survey 2018 was conducted between 28 September and 16 October 2018 in 37 countries and territories with a total survey sample of 28,115 interviews.
The question on sexual harassment was asked in a subset of countries with sample sizes ranging from 500 to 1,000 people and compared with a 2012 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights which recorded the proportion of women who reported any form of sexual harassment since the age of 15.
The EU survey’s definition included unwelcome touching, sexually suggestive comments or jokes, staring or leering, being sent sexually explicit pictures or messages and indecent exposure among other forms of harassment.
The US results were compared with a 2018 survey carried out by the non-profit organisation Stop Street Harassment, which provided respondents with broadly comparable definitions to the European survey.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd