Hannah Kettles explains why we need to change the narrative on how we report sexual harassment statistics.
In the wake of Sarah Everard’s ‘missing person’ and rapidly developing ‘suspected murder’ case, #notallmen was trending on Twitter. While women recounted hundreds and thousands of stories of times they have been sexually harassed and gave advice to men on how to make women feel safer as they move through the world, #notallmen took centre stage.
Personally I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who thought every man in the country was a sexual harasser. There are men we know that we would trust with our lives. Many of us have male best friends, loving boyfriends and caring fathers. I also want to make it clear that I and, I believe, the vast majority, acknowledge the breadth and diversity of abusive situations; women to men, men to men, women to women, etc. However, if statistics are what we’re using, then forgive me for discussing the majority scenario. Another prompt of the #notallmen trend was a study released yesterday which revealed that 97% of women have been victims of sexual harassment in the UK (some might say, nearly #allwomen). Does it not seem only fair at this point, most women having suffered at least 1, if not upwards of 10, 20, 30 counts of sexual harassment, to ask: maybe it’s not all men, but how many of them is it?
Think about it to yourself now, take a guess. If 97% of women have an experience that by definition must involve another person, what is the absolute lowest percentage of perpetrators there could be? I don’t want to make any false claims and of course, I have no evidence and nor would it be easy to get it, but surely around 35% is the logical minimum. What do we think the upper limit on this statistic is? I believe it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say 50% given the 97% of women that have experienced it (no less that each victim is likely referring to multiple separate occasions).
So, let’s reframe this. To reinforce, we are not working with a proven statistic here and I’m making no factual claim, but the question I ask is if you saw a headline this morning that read instead ‘50% of men have likely sexually harassed someone in their lifetime’ what does that change for you? Who is the onus on? In a friendship group of 6 men, we would in theory read this statistic and have to wrestle with the idea that 3 would have, knowingly or not, sexually harassed someone.
The point, however, is not the specifics of these numbers, partly because we are denied them, but largely because I am highlighting the principle itself that we are encouraged to view the sexual harassment epidemic in such a backwards way. While it’s useful to have this flood of victim statistics, it is worth acknowledging that women’s experiences of sexual harassment are largely instigated by, and therefore shared with men. These numbers, published year on year, have to mean more than just another brief talking point (at best) for men to shake their head at and discuss how sad it is. Every party involved in the event of harassment is part of this statistic but the other half, the instigators, are entirely unaccounted for.
The endless stories that we women have to tell, and the victim sum that clocks up, and up, and up will only begin to slow once this mysterious figure of the ‘inappropriate man’ is unmasked. Though of course, it’s not that simple. This is no Scooby Doo episode, there is no monster disguise to be flung off and no boogeyman to be marched to the station. The scariest part of this whole horror story is that we all know a sexual harasser. The women you know could probably give you a couple by name right now. The men? Potentially! But not enough to account for the almost 100% assault rate on women’s lives.
There is a number, a stat, somewhere, floating in the ether, of how many men have sexually harassed someone in their lifetime. Yet, we may never know it because of the silence around and the lack of focus on the criminals in these assaults.
Those numbers, those stats, are real, living, breathing men that surround us all the time; in the shops, in nightclubs, in your front room, not just in the dark places but in the light ones too, and many of the spots in between. This is not a problem with womanhood, this is an outrageous portrait of what it means to be a man in 2021. We know it’s #notallmen, I promise no one is saying that it is. But men, you can do more about it than you think and you can do more about it than you currently are. What are the barriers to your doing so? Tell us. Perhaps a lot of the problem stems from not knowing what counts as sexual harassment and what doesn’t. Perhaps men have their own fears surrounding calling people out. Perhaps some men have their own traumas that stop them from actively discussing what needs to be done to progress. We will never know that unless everyone is engaged in the same conversation. So speak up boys, your friends are hurting us.
Artwork By Laura Cook.