What the Numbers Behind the #MeToo Movement Show Us


When the #MeToo stories began pouring out a few months ago, I thought about data.

There is limited data to track the full scope of sexual harassment and assault across all locations. In fact, much of the existing research on these topics has been segmented by location—like research on street harassment or research specific to schools. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) comprehensive National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) focuses heavily on physical forms of violence, and, among other limitations, does not distinguish respondents’ experiences by locations.

I appreciate the power of numbers as well as personal stories, and I knew that it was long past time to procure the national data we are lacking on this issue. That’s why, in partnership with GfK, Raliance and the UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health, and with the help of a dozen advisory committee members, my organization Stop Street Harassment spearheaded a 2,000-person, nationally representative study on sexual harassment and assault. 

The survey was administered in January 2018. The report was released today.

According to our findings, 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, and over one-quarter of women (27 percent) and one in 14 men (7 percent) reported that they have survived sexual assault.

Over three-quarters of women (77 percent) and one-third of men (34 percent) reported experiencing verbal sexual harassment. Over half of women (51 percent) and one of six men (17 percent) said they had been sexually touched in an unwelcome way. More than one-third of women (34 percent) and one in 10 men (12 percent) had been physically followed by someone else, and close to the same share of women (30 percent) and the same share of men (12 percent) had faced unwanted genital flashing. Around four in 10 women (41 percent) and one-quarter of men (22 percent) told us that they had experienced cyber sexual harassment.

88 percent of women and 86 percent of men who reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault said it had occurred in more than one place; most people indicated it had occurred in at least four to five places. While our respondents reported that sexual harassment takes place across a range of locations, the most frequently cited being a public space, they also reported that sexual assault most frequently occurred in a private residence. Women most frequently reported sexual harassment in a public space (66 percent), at their workplace (38 percent) and at their residence (35 percent). Men’s most frequently reported locations were a public space (19 percent), their school (14 percent) and, for 13 percent of men, their workplace, own residence and by phone/text, each respectively. For sexual assault, women listed someone else’s residence (15 percent) and their own residence (11 percent) as the top locations. Men listed someone else’s residence (2 percent) and a public space (2 percent).

Regardless of the survivor’s gender, our survey found that sexual harassment and assault are most frequently perpetrated by men. When asked about the perceived gender of the perpetrator/s in their most recent incident, 85 percent of women and 44 percent of men reported either one male or two or more males. In contrast, 30 percent of men and 3 percent of women reported one female or two or more females. Our data also showed that sexual harassment and assault begin at a young age; 57 percent of women and 42 percent of men who reported experiencing harassment or assault said it had happened by age 17, and 30 percent of women and 22 percent of men had experienced it by age 13.

Tabitha Hawk / Creative Commons

I was five years old the first time I experienced sexual harassment. As I walked a few blocks to school in Iowa City, older boys taunted me, pinched my cheeks and tried to lure me to their home. The father of one of my friends saw me standing frozen, surrounded by them, crying, and he intervened. That night, my parents talked to me about my rights and how boys shouldn’t touch girls without permission.

Nearly 30 years later, perhaps because too many parents/guardians of boys did not have talks with them about not harassing others, I’ve experienced hundreds more instances of sexual harassment. Most often, it is men I do not know who harass me in public spaces, and usually their behavior entails whistling and relatively mild verbal harassment. Some men, however, have uttered upsetting sexually explicit comments or called me sexist slurs. One man groped me, and three different men followed or chased me, scaring me badly. When was 18, working at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum gift shop, the manager—a man who was at least 35 years older than me—asked me out to dinner three times in a manner I found creepy and predatory. I always said no, and I dreaded the days when our shifts coincided.

From talking to friends and family, volunteering for domestic violence shelters and rape crisis lines and working on issues like sexual harassment in schools, rape in the military and street harassment, I knew the types of experiences I’d had were sadly the norm for most women and some men. Our study reinforced that the #MeToo movement was long overdue—and shows that experiences like mine are still far too common.

If you are upset by these findings and want to do something, you can visit organizations like National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), PreventConnect, RAINN, 1 in 6, Feminist Campus and the CDC to find resources and ideas. Notably, NSVRC released a bystander intervention tips and strategies factsheet today to coincide with the report release.



Holly Kearl is an anti-street harassment expert, writer, and nonprofit professional based in the Washington, D.C. area. Her work has been cited by the United Nations, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, ABC News, NPR, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire Magazines, Feministing, and Jezebel.