Louis C.K. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Donald Trump. R Kelly. Men whose legacies now include ‘sexual predator’.
Our collective consciousness have been rocked recently by shocking revelations of sexual misconduct by several influential and wealthy industry leaders. As more powerful men are revealed to be perpetrators of sexual misconduct, conversations regarding the culture of sexual harassment and its acceptance are starting to gain traction.
Although a difficult pill to swallow, sexual harassment is an issue a woman faces at least once in her lifetime and it might be time we take a closer look at what this means for Singaporeans.
In a nationally representative survey conducted by milieu with 240 respondents, an astonishing 77% of women have reported experiencing at least one sexual harassment encounter before. Sexual harassment cases were widely reported by men as well, with 55% of men reporting they have experienced some sort of sexual misconduct towards them before.
Sexual harassment encounters
Encounters range from unwanted looks at a certain body part to receiving unwanted intimate photos. For each encounter described, women on average report experiencing nearly double than what men experience. Victims report the perpetrators as mostly strangers (52%), whereas 40% say it was by someone they know.
The highest percentage (26%) of encounters happened in the workplace or school, followed by a nightclub and public transport. These alarming figures raise questions on how safe women are at their workplaces or public transport, considering the amount of time we spend at work and commuting there everyday.
Reporting sexual harassment
Respondents are mostly evenly split between reporting instances of sexual harassment, with about half saying they have told someone about the encounter.
The culture of accepting sexually inappropriate behaviour may be systemically ingrained in us. Of those who said they did not report the encounter, 47% say it was because it’s not an issue worth mentioning.
Victims are equally split between not reporting the incident because they thought nothing would have been done about it (30%), they were too ashamed (28%), or they felt they were partially to blame for what happened (21%). Lack of support for victims and ignoring sexual harassment claims is another large factor that contributes to a culture of unreported cases. For many women, the stigma of coming forward and reporting an incident discourages them to say something. The culture of judging and blaming victims for their clothing choices or the places they frequent also prevents victims from sharing their experiences.
What constitutes sexual harassment
Respondents were also asked about 9 different behaviours such as making a comment about a body part and cat-calling and whether it constitutes sexual harassment. Men and women viewed most obvious behaviours like making a sexual comment about someone’s body part and asking someone to dress a certain way for their benefit as sexually inappropriate behaviour.
For other behaviours such as looking at someone’s body part while talking to them, far more women consider these actions as sexual harassment than men. The actions that divided men and women the most were cat-calling, with 27% of women classifying it as sexual harassment as compared to 16% of men. 46% of women also considered looking at someone’s private parts while having a conversation as sexually inappropriate behaviour as compared to 73% of men who do not think so.
However, things may be looking up as women report that they are more comfortable with coming forward with their experiences now as compared to a year ago. With more conversations educating the public on what constitutes sexually inappropriate behaviour and cultivating a zero tolerance culture, more women are encouraged to speak up now more than ever.