The #MeToo Movement has surprising momentum and appears to be reshaping our national dialogue and workplace cultures—at last! It seems that every week we read about high profile men (and some women) getting fired for sexual harassment. Almost every organization I work with as a consultant reports firing or disciplining employees in a variety of roles and levels for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been in the news at various times in the past, including in 1991 when Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearing. But we have not been able to grasp the seriousness of the problem as a society, “believe the women” bringing accusations, or undertake research that can help us understand the depth and breadth of the problem. Susan Chira of the New York Times cites Holly Kearl, author of an important new study, as explaining why we must take this problem seriously: “Sexual harassment is a human rights violation—whether it takes place on the sidewalk of a street or in an executive boardroom—because it can cause emotional harm and limit and change harassed persons’ lives.” I can personally attest to that. The #MeToo Movement has provided an outlet for women and men to share their stories and finally be heard. The scope of the problem fueling and sustaining the movement has finally been documented in Kearl’s study. This study asks about a broader range of behaviors in multiple locations, not just in the workplace, over a longer time span and provides a clearer picture of the pervasiveness of this problem than we have had to date. Previous studies had a narrower focus, such as only in the workplace, only about rape or assault, or only during a narrow band of age, and did not give the whole picture. Chira notes that this well-designed study asked a nationally representative sample of one thousand women and one thousand men about verbal harassment, sexual touching, cyber sexual harassment, being followed on the street, genital flashing, and sexual assault in public spaces, in workplaces, in schools, online, and in homes. The findings from this study highlight the extent of this problem:
- Eighty-one percent of women and 43 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment or assault over their lifetimes.
- Seventy-seven percent of women and 34 percent of men said they had encountered verbal sexual harassment.
- Fifty-one percent of women and 17 percent of men reported unwelcome sexual touching.
- Forty-one percent of women and 22 percent of men said they were sexually harassed online.
- About a third of women and one in ten men reported being physically followed, while 30 percent of women and 12 percent of men experienced genital flashing.
- Twenty-seven percent of women and 7 percent of men reported sexual assaults.
- Few differences were found by race or ethnicity among women who reported harassment. Hispanic men reported the most sexual harassment and assault in every category the survey recorded for men.
- People who reported having a disability were much more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault.
- Lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men were more likely to experience sexual assault than straight women and men.