American Men Think 44 Percent Of Women Have Been Sexually Harassed. It's Actually Nearly Double That

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, have American men finally begun to grasp how widespread the issue of sexual harassment against women is in the U.S.?

The answer appears to be no, according to a new study, which reflects how much men in the U.S.—and 12 European countries, including Britain—underestimate levels of harassment against women.

Related: Republican voters don't see racism, sexism, climate change, gun violence as big problems in U.S., poll finds

Asked to estimate the levels of sexual harassment experienced by women since the age of 15 as part of an Ipsos Mori survey on the "Perils of Perception," men put their estimates at an average of 44 percent. 

The actual number appears to be nearly double that, with a January 2018 poll finding that 81 percent of women in the U.S. had experienced sexual harassment and assault at some point in their lives. 

The poll surveyed 2,000 people and was conducted by research company GfK on behalf of awareness group Stop Street Harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which saw countless women, including celebrities and politicians, come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault. 

GettyImages-1065997974 Activists participate in the 2018 #MeToo March in Hollywood, California, on November 10. A new poll suggests that men in the U.S. and across Europe still underestimate levels of sexual harassment against women in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Sarah Morris/Getty

It found that while verbal sexual harassment was the most common form of abuse against women, an "alarming" 51 percent of women said they were touched and groped in an unwelcome way, while 27 percent of women said they had survived sexual assault.

American men might be surprised to learn that their 44 percent estimate for sexual harassment against women is actually much closer to the levels of sexual harassment and assault men said they had faced at some point in their lifetime in the same study. 

The poll found that 34 percent of men said they had experienced verbal sexual harassment, while 17 percent of men said they had been touched or groped in an unwelcome way, and 7 percent said they had survived sexual assault. 

While American men still appear to underestimate the level of sexual harassment women face, the biggest misconceptions appeared to be held by Danish, Dutch and French men, who underestimated harassment levels in their countries by 49, 35 and 34 percentage points, respectively. 

In Denmark, men participating in the study gave an average answer of 31 percent for how widespread sexual harassment is in their country, despite a 2012 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which found that 80 percent of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment since the age of 15, according to The Guardian

In the Netherlands, the average answer among men was 38 percent, despite 73 percent of women asserting that they had faced sexual harassment in their lifetime, according to Ipsos Mori. 

Meanwhile, French men estimated the figure to be at 41 percent, while the 2012 survey found that 75 percent women had said they experienced sexual harassment. 

In Great Britain, the average guess among men of levels of sexual harassment was much closer to the actual reported levels, with men estimating that 50 percent of women had experienced harassment—18 percent less than the 68 percent of women who say they have endured such experiences, according to a March Ispos Mori poll. 

Speaking to The Guardian, Laura Bates, who founded the Everyday Sexism Project, which gives women a platform to share daily experiences of harassment and gender inequality, said that the survey's results in the wake of #MeToo suggest that society still has a "real problem believing women and taking them seriously." 

“That so many women have been brave enough to tell stories with devastating personal consequences, to hear that they are still not being believed is very difficult to cope with," Bates said. “We need a critical mass of men to stand up and get involved to tackle this problem and become part of the solution.”

Despite growing awareness around sexual harassment and violence against women and men in the U.S., statistics on the issue in the U.S. are alarming, with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center finding that one in five women and one in 71 men "will be raped at some point in their lives." 

Even those numbers are likely to be low, however, with the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network asserting that the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. According to Justice Department data analyzed by RAINN, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, meaning about three out of four incidents go unreported. 

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