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Sexual Harassment Statistics: The Numbers Behind the Problem

We collected 100+ sexual harassment statistics from various surveys, polls and questionnaires to learn more about the victims and prevalence of sexual harassment.

Posted by Katie Yahnke on April 16th, 2018

Sexual harassment: it’s on our streets, in our offices, in our homes and, lately, it’s all over our screens.

It’s something that 19 per cent of American adults have experienced at work, says this CNBC survey, meaning, in your team of five analysts, lawyers or welders, one has probably faced sexual harassment at work.

But a single poll only shows us one piece, not the whole pie.


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

* 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.

How Common is Sexual Harassment?

At work:

In 2016, the EEOC estimated that between 25 and 85 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of employed American women have reportedly experienced either sexual, verbal or physical harassment at work, says an NBC/WSJ poll from 2017.

Check out this video on workplace sexual harassment:

A recent study by Quinnipiac University found that 60 per cent of women have been victims of sexual harassment and nearly three-quarters said it took place at work.

Estimates say that one in three women between 18 and 34 have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, says AtlanticTraining. As much as 81 per cent have been “verbally sexually harassed”.

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.

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 template.

A Cosmopolitan survey from 2015 asked female victims to identify their harasser(s). Seventy-five per cent said it was a male colleague, 49 per cent said it was a male customer, 38 per cent said it was a male manager and 10 per cent said it was a female colleague.

Another 2017 poll by ABC News-Washington Post found that 33 million U.S. women have been sexually harassed at the workplace. Thirty per cent of victims said the harasser was a male colleague and 25 per cent said the harasser was a man with power over their career.

In Canada, the Angus Reid Institute found that 43 per cent of female respondents reported having been sexually harassed at work.


On the street:

In 2014, the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment (SSH) found that 65 per cent of U.S. women have been victims of street harassment. In London, U.K., in 2012, nearly half of women had experienced street sexual harassment in the past year.

The study by Quinnipiac University in 2017 found that 45 per cent of victims were sexually harassed on the street.

An older survey by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates found that 87 per cent of U.S. females had been harassed by a male on the street. Half of the victims said the harassment was “extreme” (they had been touched, grabbed, followed, etc.). The same survey busted the myth that catcalling only happens in cities. 90 per cent of women in rural areas experienced street harassment. In suburban areas, that number is 88 per cent and 87 per cent in urban areas.

A separate study of the U.K. found that 40 to 50 per cent of EU women had been sexually harassed at work.


On public transportation:

In 2007, an online questionnaire found that 63 per cent of New York public transit users had been sexually harassed on the subway or at a subway station.

In 2014, around 20 per cent of Los Angeles public transit users said they felt unsafe in the past month due to unwanted sexual attention on the Metro.

And in 2016, 21 per cent of Washington, D.C., public transit users were victims of sexual harassment.


In general:

small survey of the California Bay Area in the early 2000s found that 100 per cent of women had been the target of sexual remarks. Nineteen per cent said it happened every day and nearly half said it was often.

In U.S. surveys of “randomly representative samples” around one-quarter of women experienced sexual harassment.

YouGov poll from 2017 concluded that 60 per cent of women in America have experienced sexual harassment. An additional 8 per cent preferred not to respond.

The prominent and viral #MeToo social media movement has reportedly inspired nearly two million people to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment.

The 2017 ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 54 per cent of American women had experienced unwanted sexual advances before.

That same year Quinnipiac University found that 60 per cent of U.S. women and 20 per cent of men had been sexually harassed.

The Economist reported that, in any year, nearly one in five women will experience gender harassment and one in ten will experience unwanted sexual attention.

What are the Common Acts?

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

Sexual coercion is reported 30 per cent of the time, whereas unwanted physical touching is formally reported only 8 per cent of the time, reports the EEOC.

In 2014, SSH noted that 65 per cent of all women experienced street harassment and, of the victims, 23 per cent said they were inappropriately touched whereas 20 per cent said they were followed.

Learn more about 11 different types of harassment such as verbal, physical, power and quid pro quo.

Cosmopolitan found that 81 per cent of women experienced verbal harassment, 44 per cent experienced unwanted sexual advances and 25 per cent received lewd communications.

According to a YouGov poll from 2017, 23 per cent of respondents had experienced unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or some other inappropriate sexual conduct at work.

A U.K. company found that 52 per cent of women have experienced victims workplace sexual harassment. Of the victims, 25 per cent had been touched without invitation and 20 per cent experienced a sexual advance.

No One Knows What “Sexual Harassment” Means

The EEOC discovered that when asked outright if they experienced sexual harassment, 25 per cent of respondents answered yes. When specific acts of harassment were named that number climbed to 60 per cent.

Cosmopolitan’s online survey found that 16 per cent of women claimed to have not been sexually harassed but said they had experienced sexual remarks.

A 2017 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 light-hearted flirting), 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.

Someone pushing against you on public transit is seen as sexual harassment by 70 per cent of women. Only 52 per cent of men thought so. The genders also disagree on sexual comments about a person’s looks or body. Here, 86 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men say it’s sexual harassment.

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 having 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.

Sexual Harassment Victims: Gender

The 2017 CNBC All-American Survey found that 10 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women have faced sexual harassment at work.



A separate Washington Post survey from 2010 also reported that 10 per cent of men have been victims of sexual harassment at work.

A 2014 study reports that, in Canada, women are twice as likely as men to report unwanted sexual contact in the office (20 per cent and 9 per cent respectively).

survey by Quinnipiac University found that 20 per cent of men reported being sexually harassed. Similar statistics come from AtlanticTraining (17 to 20 per cent) and a 2017 YouGov poll (15 per cent).

An online survey in Canada found that more than one-third of women and about one in ten men had been victims of workplace sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment Victims: Age

A 2017 CNBC survey found that 16 per cent of 18-to-34-year-olds have been sexually harassed. That number jumped to 25 per cent for the 50 to 64 age group.

A separate 2017 study by The Barna Group found that Millennials and individuals of Generation X are twice as likely as seniors to say they’ve been a victim of sexual harassment.

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” (construction). Low- paying jobs (nanny) and service-based industries (fast food) also see higher than normal levels of harassment.

To back up these findings, a 2015 Cosmopolitan survey found that reports of sexual harassment are highest in: food and hospitality (42 per cent), retail (36 per cent) and STEM (31 per cent).

The educated are not spared. The same poll discovered that 45 per cent of women who have been sexually harassed hold a bachelor’s degree. 19 per cent have a graduate’s degree. Another 29 per cent have at least some college education.

poll found that the tech field in California is particularly problematic. Sixty per cent of women were victims of unwanted sexual advances at work. More often than not, the harasser was a superior. Exceptionally troubling: 40 per cent of victims did nothing because they thought reacting would damage their career.

But the trends aren’t all bad. In 2017, an NBC/WSJ poll found that, since #MeToo and #TimesUp, 44 per cent of women feel encouraged to speak out and 77 per cent of men feel more likely to speak up if they see someone being treated unfairly.

Reporting Sexual Harassment

The EEOC receives around 12,000 complaints of sexual harassment every year, which we can safely assume is a gross undercount of the true statistics. In fact, the EEOC estimates that approximately 87-94 per cent of incidents are never formally filed as a complaint.

However, EEOC data suggests that men are becoming increasingly likely to file claims. In 1990, 92 per cent of claims were filed by women. In 2015, that number slid to 83 per cent.

A study by Hart Research in 2016 looked at sexual harassment in the fast food industry. They found that 42 per cent of victims react passively, essentially ignoring the incident. 10 per cent reduced their hours, 15 per cent changed their hours and less than 10 per cent quit entirely.

It also seems that the odds of reporting an incident varies depending on the incident type. One study available on the EEOC website claims that victims of sexually coercive behavior report their incident 30 per cent of the time, but victims of unwanted physical touching report only 8 per cent of the time.

Why Are Victims Staying Silent?

Statista describes a survey in which 63 per cent of women reported that people are not sensitive enough to sexual harassment. Just over half of the surveyed men stated the same.

Men and women disagree on who’s more respected as a victim. Bustle reported that in one poll, one-quarter of women said they thought male victims are taken more seriously, while 37 per cent of men say female victims are more respected and supported.


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Victims fear retaliation. A study by the EEOC in 2003 found that three-quarters of employees who spoke out against mistreatment at work faced retaliation.

Victims also fear nothing will come of their actions. The Guardian reported that 52 per cent of sexual harassment claims made to the EEOC in 2015 were dismissed and an additional 23 per cent were closed for “administrative reasons”. That leaves only 25 per cent of claimants who actually had a positive outcome.

A 2016 report out of the UK uncovered even more disappointing numbers. Eighty per cent of women who reported an incident said nothing was done to address their complaints. Another 16 per cent said their situation worsened.

The Costs of Sexual Harassment

In 1994 the Merit Systems Protection Board conservatively estimated that sexual harassment costs the government more than $300M in job turnover, sick leave and decreased productivity.

But, the costly price of settlements and legal fees are not included in that figure. Since 2010, employers have paid an additional $700M for harassment allegations made through the EEOC.

Katie Yahnke
Katie Yahnke

Marketing Writer

Katie is a former marketing writer at i-Sight. She writes on topics that range from fraud, corporate security and workplace investigations to corporate culture, ethics and compliance.

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