Men Have No Idea How Much Harassment Women Face, Study Finds

It’s hard to believe anyone could have lived through the #MeToo movement without developing an acute awareness of the harassment women face. And yet, there seem to be plenty of men—and women—around the world who still haven’t grasped the magnitude of this problem.

A recent survey of men and women in 12 European countries and the United States showed that when asked about the percentage of women who experienced any kind of sexual harassment, participants from every country underestimated harassment.

The survey took place after the height of the #MeToo movement, when awareness of sexual harassment had presumably peaked. Between 500-1,000 people in each country took part in the survey.

Participants were asked, “Out of every 100 women in [your country] how many do you think say they have experienced any form of sexual harassment since the age of 15?” Researchers then compared these results to those of surveys in both the EU and USA, in which researchers asked women in those countries about their experiences with sexual harassment.

Respondents in every country underestimated the percentage of women who have experienced harassment, in some countries to a truly shocking degree. Countries with higher levels of harassment also tended to have a great difference between the expectations and reality of its occurrence.

Danish, Dutch, and French estimates were the furthest away from the actual figures, while the US was not far behind. Danish participants estimated a whole 49 percentage points lower than reality. In a 2012 study, eighty percent of Danish women reported having experienced sexual harassment, but the average estimate was only 31 percent.

On the other hand, Romania has relatively low reported harassment figures and a smaller discrepancy.

In every country, men underestimated harassment more significantly than women. American men, for example, estimated 44 percent of women had experienced harassment when the actual answer was 81 percent. American women’s answer nearly halved the discrepancy of their male counterparts. Spain, Italy and Great Britain also saw significant differences in response based on gender. The Netherlands, though, with its vast overall discrepancy, saw very little difference between the average answers of men and women.

Researchers carried out this survey after some extremely high-profile incidents of sexual harassment and assault, not just in the United States but in other participating countries. This makes it all the more confusing that respondents would underestimate harassment rates. Do people see these instances as terrible one-offs but not part of a larger pattern?

And what about the difference in perceptions between men and women? Respondents were asked about “any form” of sexual harassment. Are men simply defining harassment differently than women, or do they truly not believe it happens—in any form—as often as it does?

Most personally interesting to me is the women who did not report any form of harassment. Who are they? How are they managing to live such peaceful lives, uninterrupted by the intrusions of harassment? What is their secret?

Take Action

According to a Plan UK survey, 66 percent of UK women ages 14 to 21 have experienced sexual harassment, right in public. Join over 47,000 Care2 members and sign and share this petition, declaring that this is not OK. Be part of the #ISayItsNotOK movement, and stand with UK women!

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo Credit: Elijah O'Donnell


Sophie A
Sophie A2 months ago

thank you

Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

I think the wom

Jan K
Jan S2 months ago

thanks for sharing

Karen H
Karen H2 months ago

My friend was at a club with a couple of female friends. They weren't dressed provocatively, unless jeans and t-shirts are provocative. All were over 50. They were having a few beers and enjoying the band when some guy grabbed my friend's ass and made a disgusting remark. She turned around and gave him a shove. What did the bouncer do? He told my friend she had to leave because she was behaving improperly. She and her friends told him what had happened and why she shoved the guy. So grabbing a strange woman's ass without permission and making a disgusting remark is not considered "harassment", but shoving the douchebag was "inappropriate behavior"?

Maria P
Maria P2 months ago

thank you for sharing

Ingrid A
Past Member 2 months ago

Thank you

Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leo C
Leo Custer2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Anna R
Anna R3 months ago

thanks for sharing

HEIKKI R3 months ago

thank you