Sexual harassment has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with allegations spanning from Westminster to Hollywood, but it seems the public’s definition of it varies.
A new YouGov survey of more than 2,700 adults has highlighted how perceptions of sexual harassment vary between both men and women, as well as across generations.
The biggest divide when looking at the age of respondents was wolf whistling, with older women far less likely to consider it a form of sexual harassment than younger women.
Meanwhile, the appropriateness of looking at a woman’s breasts was the issue dividing men and women the most.
For the survey, researchers asked respondents to highlight whether they considered 12 different actions a form of sexual harassment when conducted by a man towards a woman who isn’t his partner.
The majority of respondents (regardless of age or gender) agreed that exposing your genitalia, pressing your body against someone in a club, grabbing a person’s bum or trying to take a photo up someone’s skirt is sexual harassment.
However, some questions flagged strong divisions of opinion.
Two thirds (64%) of 18-24 year old women said they consider wolf whistling “always” or “usually” a form of sexual harassment. In comparison, just 15% of women over the age of 55 said the same.
Perhaps surprisingly, overall men were more likely to consider wolf whistling a form or harassment (45%) than women (33%).
When looking at gender, the biggest difference in results was perceptions of looking at a woman’s breasts. More than half (57%) of women said they consider this a form of sexual harassment compared to around two fifths (43%) of men.
The researchers then asked female respondents how they would feel if a man who was not their friend or a partner did each of the actions to them personally.
They aimed to determine whether older women found certain actions “inappropriate”, even if they didn’t categorise them as sexual harassment.
Again, wolf whistling was the most divisive topic. More than half (54%) of women aged 18-24 called wolf whistling “inappropriate and uncomfortable” compared to just 5% of over 55s. In fact, 27% of over 55s said they consider it acceptable behaviour which makes them feel “flattered”.
There was also a stark contrast in the way women feel when a man places his hand on her lower back. While 53% of 18-24 year-olds find this “inappropriate and uncomfortable”, the figure declines with age, with just 25% of over 55s saying the same.
Finally, the researchers asked the participants a question to measure how prevalent they believe sexual harassment to be.
A total of 53% of women in the survey reported having been sexually harassed at some stage in the past.
When asked to guess what percentage of women had told the researchers they had been sexually harassed, men underestimated the figure at 45%. In contrast, women overestimated the figure at 65%.