UWLP Updates Research on Sexual Harassment in Utah

Workplace sexual harassment is a common issue, and the costs to women, families, and corporations are real and extensive.

In 2017, the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) published research about sexual harassment in the workplace. The research recommended that Utah businesses implement comprehensive programs to reduce the problem. A 2024 report released today updates the 2020 research.

According to the report, a 2018 national study found that 81% of women and 43% of men report being sexually harassed in their lifetime. Incidentally, approximately 87-95% of those who experienced sexual harassment did not file a formal legal complaint. In fact, studies show that around 70% did not report the incidents within their own organizations due to fear of repercussions.

In Utah, the number of sexual harassment charges has dropped in the past two years. The rate of formal charges is roughly in line with national averages of three to four charges of sexual harassment per 100,000 population and has remained steady for the past four years.

However, Utah’s sex-based discrimination charges (which include sexual harassment) make up a larger share of the total complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Utah charges are 38.3% while the national average is 30.4%. Only New Hampshire (49.2%) and Wyoming (43.3%) have higher complaints than Utah.

While sexual harassment can happen anywhere and to anyone, certain populations and environments experience elevated risks. Women of color are more often targets and are also susceptible to intersectional harassment, where they are abused both for their gender and their race/ethnicity.

Teenagers and young adult women are more likely to say they experienced sexual harassment than older women. In Utah, college and university campuses are of particular concern. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also likely to experience sexual orientation/sexual identity harassment.

“At its core, harassment of any kind thrives in situations where there is an imbalance of power such as gender, race, economic, or educational inequality, as well as age, or sexual orientation,” said Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director and a report author. “These individuals may lack the knowledge or ability to seek recourse, which can enable the abuse to continue unchecked. And unfortunately, research shows that 75% of women who report harassment at work experience some form of retaliation.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that from 2005 to 2015, more than half of the complaints came from four industries: accommodation and food services, retail trade, manufacturing, and healthcare and social assistance. These industries represent two extremes – where women make up most of the workforce or where women are the minority.

Organizations have an incentive to address workplace harassment because, in addition to the harm it causes their employees, it affects productivity and morale. Loss of productivity from employees being harassed or witnessing harassment affects the bottom line for companies where sexual harassment happens.

The report provided recommendations for a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional training and anti-harassment policies. They include 1) ethical leadership development, 2) bystander intervention training, 3) workplace civility training, and 4) developing programs that work to create healthy workplace cultures.

“Encouraging coworkers to intervene is an effective measure,” said Madsen. “Parents and teachers can instruct and model respectful behavior and attitudes for young people as they prepare to enter public life, including the workplace. And open discussions about harassment cases in the media can reduce stigma and empower those who may have feared to come forward with their experiences.”

Madsen concluded that organizations need to recognize the value that diverse perspectives can bring in forming workplace policies and culture.

UWLP research fellows Maria Blevins and Ariell Hardy co-authored the report. Click here to read the full report.

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