DURHAM — A University of New Hampshire study estimates that 52 percent of women and 22 percent of men in New Hampshire have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Granite State Poll of 989 people found that 4 in 10 women workers report being looked at in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, one-third report coworkers have made offensive remarks about their appearance or sexual activities, and 24 percent say they were touched inappropriately or that someone exposed themselves to them at work.
Fourteen percent of women report that they were threatened with retaliation for not being sexually cooperative or it was implied they would be offered promotions at work for sexual compliance.
For men, 13 percent report they have been subjected to offensive remarks about their body or sexual activities and 11 percent report sexist materials being displayed, used or distributed at work. Eight percent of men report being stared at or ogled. Seven percent say they were touched inappropriately, or a person exposed themselves while at work.
Three percent of the 577 men surveyed say they have been threatened with retaliation or a promotion has been implied related to sexual compliance.
The data was collected in April and July last year by the Carsey School of Public Policy and the Prevention Innovations Research Center at UNH and released Wednesday.
The researchers say this is troubling for not only employees, but employers. Twenty-one percent of women and 17 percent of men who had experienced sexual harassment say they quit their jobs because of it.
Kristin Smith is a family demographer at Carsey School of Public Policy and a research associate professor of sociology at UNH.
“I think that this really should be a wake-up call for employers,” Smith said. “We hope this research will open a dialogue in the state, given one-fifth of workers quit their jobs after their most recent experience with sexual harassment at work.”
Researchers said educating employers about the magnitude of the problem is the first step to preventing sexual harassment and building an environment that fosters healthy working relationships. Even with the best policies in place, bosses may not understand the financial consequences for employees who report sexually harassment, Smith said.
“After sexual harassment, individuals involuntary or voluntarily take a work transfer, or they take leave, or their schedule is modified so that leads to financial stress,” Smith said.
Valerie Rochon is president of The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth. She says her organization is more than willing to share educational information on the topic with members.
“If we can’t keep employees because people are discriminated against, women or men, that’s a workforce problem,” Rochon said.
Rochon said none of her chamber members has reported issues with sexual harassment to the organization, but that doesn’t mean problems don’t exist on the Seacoast.
Lyn Schollett is the executive director of New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Concord. She said Wednesday’s report shows just how prevalent sexual harassment is in the workplace.
“Employers really need to have strong policies and they need to take every report of sexual harassment seriously,” Schollett said.
She said at their crisis centers last year, 116 people came in specifically to seek help after being sexually harassed at work.
“What we know is many more victims don’t come forward for the exact reasons outlined in this report, because they are afraid of losing their job,” Schollett said.
UNH’s survey shows that 33 percent of women and 25 percent of men reported work-related consequences after their most recent sexual harassment experience.
Schollett said the coalition has resources at crisis centers statewide for employers who have questions about best practices and need help after a report of sexual harassment.
The coalition also offers counseling and advocacy for employees who have been victimized by sexual harassment. Their 24-hour hotline can be reached at 1-800-277-5570.
Sharyn Potter, executive director of research for the Prevention Innovations Research Center at UNH and professor of sociology, says the researchers plan to release another paper with the Carsey School of Public Policy within the next six weeks that details how coworkers and others intervene to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace