• Thomson Reuters Foundation


From leering and unwanted touching to being asked for sexual favors, U.S. women say they suffer less sexual harassment in the workplace since #MeToo brought the issue to the fore, but sexism has increased, researchers said on Wednesday.

The #MeToo movement began in 2017 in the United States as a response to accusations of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood and emboldened women around the world to recount their experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested or raped.

U.S. researchers who surveyed more than 500 women in September 2016 and again in September 2018 found the number reporting sexual harassment at work had fallen — a sign that the #MeToo movement had an impact.

“It’s really good news that women are getting sexually harassed less. Men are more afraid to engage in sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention,” said Stefanie Johnson, co-author of the paper published in journal PLOS ONE.

“Some women would leave a field altogether because of so many negative experiences. And if we’re seeing less of that, it allows more women to stay in the workplace,” she said.

The proportion of women who reported being sexually coerced dropped to 16 percent in 2018 from 25 percent in 2016, the survey found.

Reports of unwanted sexual attention — such as ogling and inappropriate touching — fell to 1 in 4 last year from about two-thirds of those surveyed in 2016, it said.

But nearly all the women surveyed in 2018 said they had experienced sexism, compared to 76 percent of women in 2016, the report said.

Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States, said the increase in hostility towards women might be a backlash against #MeToo.

Several women interviewed for the study said they felt less ashamed and did not blame themselves when they were harassed knowing that other women had gone through similar experiences, she added.

“If women do experience workplace harassment, they feel more empowered now to speak up about it,” said Johnson.

One in three women globally has experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by someone they know, according to the United Nations.

The U.N. International Labour Organization adopted a treaty against violence and harassment in the workplace in June, fueled by #MeToo.

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