Oh Good: The Majority of Americans Now Say Sexual Harassment Is A Big Problem

Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.

The news that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was a tyrant —one who allegedly harassed and assaulted numerous women in his industry for years — was a well-known fact to some, an open secret to others, and an unsurprising disgrace to others.

Workplace harassment isn't unique to the entertainment industry, of course. Agricultural workers (especially those who are undocumented), women in media, and women in technology have all spoken out recently about the abuse they face while doing their jobs.

Now, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a majority of Americans — 64% — acknowledges sexual harassment in the workplace as a serious problem.

When the poll was conducted in 2011, less than half of Americans believed that. At that time, 47% of Americans believed that sexual harassment was a serious issue, with 30% saying it was "not a problem" at all. The difference "[marks] a significant increase that has coincided with a period when several high-profile harassment and assault scandals have unfolded," write Caitlin Gibson and Emily Guskin in The Washington Post.

On social media, the outpouring of statuses using the #MeToo hashtag have illustrated how pervasive sexual violence is. This year's Post-ABC poll put some numbers behind that, with 54% of women saying they received unwanted sexual advances from a man in general, 30% saying the advances came from someone at work, and 23% saying the instigator was someone who held power or "influence over their work situation." Nearly four-in-five women characterized those unwanted advances at work as sexual harassment. One-third said they experienced sexual abuse.

As Rachel Goldsmith, LCSW-R, an associate vice president for the Domestic Violence Shelter Programs at Safe Horizon told Refinery29, people who experience harassment or abuse deal with those feelings in different ways. Some may find a social media demonstration like #MeToo cathartic, while others prefer reflect behind the scenes. Per the Post-ABC poll, a less-visible response doesn't mean no response is happening.

When asked to describe their feelings about unwanted advances at work, over half of the women polled said they felt "humiliated," nearly two-thirds said they felt "intimidated," 83% were "angry," and 31% said they felt "ashamed." Unfortunately, when asked if they think a man who sexually harasses a woman in the workplace faces repercussions for his actions, 65% of all Americans — and more than 75% of women polled — said the person gets away with it.

For women who have experienced harassment, this number is even higher: "Among women who say they've experienced unwelcome sexual advances on the job, a whopping 94% say men usually avoid facing any consequences for their actions," the Post adds. So, while there may be comfort for victims and survivors in knowing that they are not alone, it is obvious that most workplaces are far from adequately acknowledging widespread abuse.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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