How to ask about sexual harassment
New research and several studies in the wake of the #MeToo movement show that studies on sexual harassment often reveal only the tip of the iceberg. This is for instance evident in the large questionnaire survey on the Danish work environment, Working Environment and Health, conducted every other year by the National Research Center for the Working Environment. It poses the question, “Have you been subjected to sexual harassment in the last 12 months?” in 2018 3.6 percent of the respondents answered ‘yes’ to this question.
Asking about sexual harassment as such, rather than about specific incidents perceived as offensive, result in far fewer reported incidents, the research show. If you only ask a general question about sexual harassment, you risk a wide range of interpretations, because what is sexual harassment?
There is no agreement on this, and the answers you get reflect to a greater extent an attitude and societal discourse than the actual occurrence of offensive incidents. For example, a study from the Copenhagen Business School, CBS, shows that people of different genders perceive the concept of sexual harassment differently.
Consequently, it is therefore more accurate methodologically to ask questions about specific incidents, which makes it easier for the respondents to relate objectively to and without interpretation remember the incidents, and thus answer in accordance with the actual experiences of harassment and violations. This is also recommended by the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
QUESTIONS ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT
The Danish Working Environment Authority recommends that abusive acts of a sexual nature be defined as all forms of unwanted sexual attention. This includes, for example, unwanted touching, unwanted verbal urges for sexual intercourse, vile jokes and comments, irrelevant inquiries about sexual topics and viewing of pornographic material.
Sexual harassment is subcategorised into at least three forms as below: verbal sexual harassment, non-verbal sexual harassment and physical sexual harassment.
In addition, it is relevant to ask about ‘grosser’ sexual assaults such as rape.
Verbal sexual harassment
• Has anyone asked you questions, commented or told jokes with sexual undertones that you found unpleasant or offensive?
• Has anyone made comments about your gender that you found unpleasant or offensive?
• Have you experienced comments on your body, sexuality, or appearance in a way you found offensive or unpleasant?
Non-verbal sexual harassment
• Have you received invitations to dates that you found offensive or unpleasant?
• Has anyone sent or shown you pictures or movie clips with sexual content that you found offensive or unpleasant, such as pornographic or sexist images?
• Has sexually explicit material about you been shared online / digitally (for example Instagram, Snapchat or other social media)?
Physical sexual harassment
• Have you experienced unwanted sexual advances in the form of physical touch such as hugs or kisses?
• Has anyone pressured you into nudity or exposed themselves to you?
Sexual assault and rape
• Has anyone forced you into acts of a sexual nature (for example, intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, forced masturbation)?
• Has anyone tried to force you into sexual acts (for example, sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex or forced masturbation)?
If you have had unwanted sexual experiences or been sexually abused that we have not asked about, please feel free to write it here.