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October 19 2017

ABC’s Misleading Workplace Sexual Harassment Poll Pushes an Agenda

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

A new poll suggests that more than half of U.S. women have experiences unwanted and inappropriate advances from men, but a little digging uncovers an agenda to push a victimization narrative.

According to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, 54 percent of American women say they’ve experience unwanted sexual advances. In addition, three in ten put up with unwanted advanced from male co-workers and 25 percent dealt with unwanted advances from a person with influence over their job.

If the U.S. workplace is this bad, how could any women ever leave her house? ABC News explains:

Those results in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll show the vast extent to which women encounter inappropriate sexual conduct from men across U.S. society, marking the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as merely the latest public eruption of a far broader and deeper problem.

When we look deeper we find that there’s more to the story.

Let’s be clear, sexual harassment in the workplace is a reality for too many women and men. It’s a problem in our society and the Weinstein scandal offers an opportune time for employers and employees to assess whether sexual harassment is going undealt with.

However, polls like this can be misleading.

First, the poll was conducted by landline and cell phones and interviewers specifically asked to speak to young women and young men – an age demographic more likely to be harassed.

Second, not all 1,260 adults polled answered every question which skewed the results for each question. For example, just 740 women answered whether they had ever received unwanted sexual advances from a man that they felt were inappropriate or not in any circumstance – not just at work (Question 2). In addition, only 242 women agreed that they experienced unwanted workplace-related sexual advances out of the 74.6 million women in workforce. Do just 242 women speak for all 74.6 million of women who work?

Third, wording matters. In Question 2, many women could point to a time that they were hit on by a guy they weren’t attracted to. They may not have liked his weak pick-up line, but wouldn’t call that inappropriate. Yet, those women are added to those who would say unwanted sexual advances were inappropriate creating the headline grabbing 54-percent-of-women-received-unwanted-sexual-advances statistic. To say that over half of all women have received unwanted sexual advance makes the problem sound widespread.

Finally, this poll is politically biased. They purposefully connect increases in women who report dealing with sexual harassment to Republican men in office with allegations of sexual harassment:

Most Americans recognize the problem: Seventy-five percent overall call sexual harassment in the workplace a problem in American society, and 64 percent call it a serious problem – up 11 and 17 percentage points, respectively, since last asked in an ABC/Post poll in 2011, at the time of a scandal involving presidential candidate Herman Cain. 

A peak of 85 percent called workplace sexual harassment a problem in an ABC/Post poll in December 1992, at the time of reports of sexual misconduct by Sen. Bob Packwood and about a year after then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused of misconduct by Anita Hill in his Senate confirmation hearings. 

How about 1994 when Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, accused former President Bill Clinton of making unwanted sexual advances? That situation might correspond with polling at the time when according to this poll 71 percent of Americans said unwanted sexual advances was a problem.

No one excuses sexual harassment. It’s important that we have federal and state laws prohibiting this behavior and providing recourse for victims.

However, distorting the numbers to push a narrative of rampant victimization in the workplace is unproductive, diminishes the claims of those who really suffered, and makes it difficult to address the real problem.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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