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Social & Policy Issues
Concerns About Sexual Harassment Higher Than in 1998
Social & Policy Issues

Concerns About Sexual Harassment Higher Than in 1998

Story Highlights

  • 69% in U.S. say sexual harassment is a major problem, up from 50% in 1998
  • In a reversal, majority now say people are not sensitive enough to the issue
  • About four in 10 women say they've been a victim of sexual harassment

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Amid a barrage of news about sexual harassment in Hollywood and elsewhere, more Americans today consider sexual harassment in the workplace a major problem than did so two decades ago. Currently, 69% of U.S. adults, up from 50% in 1998, describe this type of harassment as a major problem. Women and men are about equally likely to take it this seriously -- 73% vs. 66%, respectively.

Americans' Views of Seriousness of Sexual Harassment Problem in the Workplace
In terms of the number of women who face sexual harassment in the workplace, would you say sexual harassment these days is -- [ROTATED: a major problem (or) a minor problem]?
  Major problem Minor problem Not a problem (vol.) No opinion
  % % % %
National adults  
2017 Oct 30-31 69 26 1 4
1998 Mar 20-22 50 43 1 6
2017 Oct 30-31 73 23 1 3
1998 Mar 20-22 55 40 1 4
2017 Oct 30-31 66 28 1 5
1998 Mar 20-22 45 47 1 8
(vol.) = volunteered response

Attitudes Have Flipped About Sensitivity to Sexual Harassment Problem

Since 1998, Americans' opinions about people's level of sensitivity to the problem of sexual harassment have completely reversed. The majority of U.S. adults (59%) now say people in the workplace are not sensitive enough to this type of harassment, whereas in 1998 the majority (53%) said people were too sensitive.

Women are more skeptical than men about workplace harassment being taken seriously. Currently, 63% of women and 54% of men say people are not sensitive enough to the problem. However, both figures are up more than 20 percentage points since 1998.

Americans' Views of Sensitivity to the Problem of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Do you think that people in the workplace are too sensitive or not sensitive enough to the problem of sexual harassment?
  Too sensitive Not sensitive enough About right (vol.) No opinion
  % % % %
National adults  
2017 Oct 30-31 30 59 3 8
1998 Mar 20-22 53 37 4 6
2017 Oct 30-31 28 63 2 6
1998 Mar 20-22 48 40 5 7
2017 Oct 30-31 33 54 4 9
1998 Mar 20-22 59 32 4 5
(vol.) = volunteered response

Gallup conducted its March 1998 poll as a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-President Bill Clinton (by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones) was heading to trial, although the case was later dismissed. The poll asked Americans about that lawsuit -- as well as about the Monica Lewinsky affair, and about allegations made by another woman, Kathleen Willey. It is unclear as to what extent, if any, those questions influenced Americans' more general views of the problem of sexual harassment. It is possible that some who said people in the workplace were too sensitive about sexual harassment were thinking of Clinton's situation as they answered.

The latest findings are based on Gallup polling conducted Oct. 30-31, nearly a month after The New York Times published a report detailing sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, scores of women, as well as men, have come forward to talk about their negative experiences with other major figures in the film and news media industries, in addition to Weinstein.

Will More Women Sue?

The Weinstein revelations have inspired a social media campaign encouraging people to comment or post #MeToo if they have ever been sexually harassed or victimized. While millions have participated, the greater test of social change will be whether more victims start to hold their abusers legally accountable.

Notably, a much higher percentage of women today (38%) than in 1998 (18%) say recent news events about sexual harassment have made them more likely to sue someone they believe had sexually harassed them. Just 14% of women say recent news events have made them less likely to do so, while 44% say their likelihood hasn't changed.

In 1998, by contrast, more women said they were less likely (29%) rather than more likely (18%) to take legal action as a result of what was then in the news dealing with sexual harassment. Although Clinton was the primary subject of this news, both Republican and Democratic women tended to say they were less likely to sue their harasser because of recent media coverage.

Gallup Analytics
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Four in 10 Women Say They Have Been a Victim of Sexual Harassment

Currently, 42% of U.S. women, along with 11% of men, say they have been a victim of sexual harassment. There is virtually no difference in women's reports of being sexually harassed by age: 41% of those aged 18 to 49 and 44% of those aged 50 and older say they have been victimized.

A March 1993 Gallup/Newsweek poll found that 19% of all Americans had been a victim of sexual harassment. That same figure is 27% today. The 1993 results by gender are not available.

Bottom Line

Americans appear more troubled today than they were two decades ago about sexual harassment in the workplace. Much has occurred in that timespan that could have contributed to the shift, including damaging claims against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and prime-time Fox host Bill O'Reilly that forced both men out of their jobs. However, outrage over Weinstein's purported behavior has triggered a flood of public accusations against other notable men, which may be affecting public attitudes.

Women continue to be more concerned than men about the problem, but the gap is not huge. Perhaps more importantly, majorities of men and women now agree that people are not sensitive enough to the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. That realization may be especially important for men, as more women now say they have newfound willingness to file a lawsuit against anyone who has sexually harassed them.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 30-31, 2017, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. For results based on the sample of 454 women, the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the sample of 558 men, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

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