Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places Contents
Annex A: Summary of YouGov research on sexual harassment
This is a short summary prepared by Dr Helen Mott and Dr Fiona Vera-Gray of the key findings and analysis of the polling and focus group research on sexual harassment that YouGov carried out for the Women and Equalities Committee in 2018. More detail, and some implications of the findings, are discussed in the body of this report. The research did not ask direct questions about behaviour, such as perpetration of sexual harassment, or use (consumption) of pornography, but it did ask about attitudes towards sexual harassment and wider social policy issues that have been linked in the research literature to sexual harassment.
- Most people think that public sexual harassment is unacceptable.
- Women are more aware of the frequency of public sexual harassment and of its impact than men are.
- Women in particular say addressing public sexual harassment should be a government priority.
- There is a significant relationship between belief in traditional gender norms and acceptability of public sexual harassment.
- Young people show some concerning trends in relation to traditional gender norms.
- The acceptability of public sexual harassment is generally higher among people who find paying for sex (whether legal or illegal) acceptable and among those who find legal pornography acceptable.
Most people think that public sexual harassment is unacceptable, however there are significant gender differences depending on the form and context of harassment.
More men (60%) than women (51%) believe it is acceptable for a man to start talking to a woman he doesn’t know in public.
- More women (26%) than men (14%) believe it is acceptable for a man to wolf-whistle at a women in public. Women’s responses on this in the focus groups were mixed. Some think it is “unacceptable because the women might not want it. It might be a woman who has been harassed or raped etc in the past and it might make them feel scared. Men should check first” (J). While others say “I don’t see it as being rude. I take it as a compliment that I look good” (T). Age differences are pronounced, with wolf-whistling being acceptable to only 5% of those aged 18–24 but 38% of those aged 65+.
Women are more aware of the frequency of public sexual harassment and of its impact than men are.
- Most men in the focus groups claimed to believe that unsolicited sexual comments against women in public are not common, while women varied between thinking it is “extremely common” (D) to “not that common” (R).
- Most people think that women have to change their behaviour to avoid sexual harassment in public, but women are much more aware of this (80%) than men (64%).
- Saying that women ‘never’ change their behaviour to avoid harassment is strongly related to beliefs about masculinity (that a man is entitled to know where his girlfriend is all the time; that men should act strong) and to the acceptability of sexual harassment.
- Women in particular say that addressing public sexual harassment should be a government priority. “[Government addressing this is] very important, it would save lives, it would give women the confidence to go out” (L).
There is a significant relationship between belief in traditional masculine gender norms and acceptability of public sexual harassment.
- The small group of men (and smaller group of women) who believe that public sexual harassment is very acceptable, show a higher level of agreement with traditional masculine gender norms such as that men should be the provider or men should act strong even when they don’t feel it. Although the numbers of people finding various forms of sexual harassment ‘very’ acceptable are too small for robust statistical analysis, the trends are indicative. For example only 9% of those polled overall say that men should be responsible for bringing home money and providing for their family but this rises to 27% of those who find it ‘very acceptable’ for a man to make a sexual comment to a woman he doesn’t know.
- Overall, 14% of those polled agree that a man deserves to know where his wife or girlfriend is all the time, while 70% disagree. However, 27% of those who think wolf-whistling is ‘very’ acceptable think a man deserves to know where his girlfriend is all the time, almost double the proportion of those who think wolf -whistling is generally unacceptable (14%) or very unacceptable (13%).
- Belief in the stereotype that men need sex more than women is not as strongly related to acceptability of sexual harassment as other beliefs about masculinity.
- Men are more likely than women to support male gender norms—agreeing that men should ‘act strong’ (18%) vs women who think this (5%), and women identify stronger social pressure on women to maintain the home—(67%) versus (49%) of men.
In line with findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey, overall belief in traditional gender norms is lessening, however young people show some concerning trends in relation to traditional gender norms.
- There is a concerning finding that young people (18–24) tend to see more pressure on women to conform with feminine norms than older people. For example 73% say society tells us it is important for women to maintain the home, compared with a national average of 59%.
- However, they are no different from others in their agreement with most masculine norms and are less likely (19%) than the overall average (27%) to think that men need sex more than women.
- The social pressure on women to look physically attractive in public is most acutely felt by young women aged 18–24 at 87% (male average is 64%). Nevertheless this group is far less likely than older women (5% vs 18–47%) to find wolf-whistling acceptable.
- 18–24 year olds are most likely (20% vs national average of 14%) to think that men deserve to know where a girlfriend is. This presents as a measure of male entitlement which we know is generally strongly related to men’s perpetration as well as specifically to acceptability of sexual harassment in this survey.
The acceptability of illegal prostitution is connected to acceptability of sexual harassment. In addition, the law operates as a key marker for acceptability of prostitution. Prostitution is understood as generally unacceptable when it is illegal, and generally acceptable when it is legal.
- The acceptability of paying for illegal sex is 13% but is much higher (24–48%) among those who find forms of sexual harassment ‘very’ acceptable.
- The proportion of people who think that men paying for sex is unacceptable more than doubles (32% to 68%) depending on whether prostitution is presented as legal or illegal.
- There is confusion among both men and women as to what constitutes illegal prostitution, with men in the focus groups claiming mostly to understand illegality as related only to non-consent.
- Generally speaking, those who find it acceptable for men to pay for sex or to use legal pornography also tend to find public sexual harassment more acceptable The acceptability of all forms of public sexual harassment is generally higher, and in some cases considerably higher, for the groups of people who consider that paying for sex (whether legal or illegal) is acceptable versus those who find paying for sex unacceptable. This trend is particularly marked, reaching statistical significance, between the people who say paying for sex even when it is illegal is acceptable versus those who say it is unacceptable. There is a similar but less strong trend between people who find legal pornography acceptable, who also tend to find most forms of sexual harassment more acceptable than those who say it is unacceptable for men to use legal pornography.
Acceptability of wolf-whistling did not follow this trend, with those who find legal pornography unacceptable being more likely to think wolf-whistling is acceptable—this appears to be related to age.
While the acceptability of men’s use of legal pornography varies significantly between men (75%) and women (48%), men in focus groups were able to claim that pornography is both acceptable, and harmful to men and women. This suggests that men are not persuaded that harm is a sufficient condition to affect the acceptability of pornography: “Well it’s legal and regulated then fair game” (L).