About two years have passed since sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein catalyzed the #MeToo movement. Since that day, there have been many public reckonings and conversations about sexual harassment in the United States. Some have raised questions about what is and isn’t considered sexual harassment.
YouGov asked more than 1,000 Americans about their own experiences with sexual harassment, as well as their general opinions on whether or not certain acts constitute sexual harassment. Respondents were filtered to only include those who confirmed that they were comfortable answering questions about sexual harassment.
About six in 10 (61%) women who said they were comfortable answering questions about sexual harassment say that they have been sexually harassed by a man. Nearly a quarter (23%) of this group say that they’ve been sexually harassed within the past five years. Millennial women (38%) are more likely than Gen X women (28%) and Baby Boomer women (9%) to say they’ve been sexually harassed within this period.
Over half (52%) of American women say someone has commented on their attractiveness while speaking to them, while 46 percent say someone has looked at their breasts. A similar number (44%) say someone has directed a sexual joke at them, and 39 percent say they’ve been cat-called.
There is some disagreement on whether these acts (and others) should be considered sexual harassment.
Millennials (59%) who participated in this survey are more likely than their Gen X (47%) and Baby Boomer (41%) counterparts to believe that a man placing his hand on a woman’s lower back is always or usually sexual harassment. They’re also more likely than older generations to say that a man winking at a woman or asking her out for a drink is sexual harassment.
There are also some differences in how men and women view certain acts. While about six in 10 (62%) women say that it’s always or usually sexually harassment for a man to look at a woman’s breasts, far fewer (43%) men say the same.
Similarly, 86 percent of women say that it’s sexual harassment if a man goes up to a woman in a club and dances by pressing himself against her. Fewer than three-quarters (73%) of men say the same.
Additional data from YouGov explores how people say they would feel if they found themselves in various situations.
Most women say they would find it both inappropriate and uncomfortable if a person exposed their genitalia to them (i.e., flashed them) (92%), tried to take a photo up their skirt (91%), requested sexual favors from them (87%), pinched or grabbed their butt (86%), danced up against them in a club (77%), directed sexual jokes at them (64%), or looked at their breasts (51%).
But there are other situations that women are much less likely to find inappropriate and uncomfortable.
When asked how they would feel about a person commenting on their attractiveness directly to them, one-third (33%) of women say they would think it was acceptable and flattering. Another 12 percent would find it acceptable, but they wouldn’t be flattered and 14 percent would think this was an inappropriate action, but wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.
Similarly, nearly half (49%) of US women would find it acceptable if a person asked them out for a drink, while 27 percent say they would have no strong feelings either way. Fewer than one in five (18%) women would find this action inappropriate.
See full results from this survey here.
Methodology: Total unweighted sample size was 1,114 US adults who indicated they were comfortable answering questions about sexual harassment. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (ages 18+). Interviews were conducted online between September 13 - 16, 2019.