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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

Findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on the attitudes of the Scottish public to the following forms of violence against women: sexual violence, domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional), sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation.

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Chapter 5 - Sexual harassment and stalking

This chapter reports views on sexual harassment in five contrasting settings and with different relationships between the perpetrator and victim: sexual harassment in the workplace, wolf-whistling on the street, stalking (in person and online) and posting naked pictures online of someone else. It also examines views on someone telling a sexist joke and explores respondents' views on the likelihood of them personally acting in response to the joke telling.

Since 2010 stalking has been a specific criminal offence in Scotland, brought in as part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) has collected data about people's experience of stalking and sexual harassment since 2016. The most recent SCJS (2016/2018) figures show that just over 1 in 10 adults (11%) reported having experienced any type of stalking or harassment in the year prior to the interview. This includes a wide range of types of unwanted behaviour, including both offline and online activity, and direct messaging. Eight percent of people in Scotland reported having received unwanted messages by text/email/messenger or social media, 6% having received unwanted phone calls and 1% reported experiencing someone loitering outside their home or workplace (Scottish Government, 2019).

In recent years, the use of the internet to distribute and share intimate pictures of people without their consent has become a political and legal issue. Typically used as an act of revenge, this behaviour has come to be known as 'revenge porn'. In 2016, the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act made it an offence to show intimate photographs or film, send them to another person, upload them to a website, or threaten to do so, without the consent of the person shown in the image. Latest figures from the SCJS (2016/2018) indicate that 0.4% of people experienced this kind of sexual harassment in the previous year (Scottish Government, 2019).

In 2019, questions used in SSA to explore people's attitudes to sexual harassment were based on a number of different scenarios. As in 2014, a range of different types of sexual harassment were included to explore the extent to which people's attitudes vary depending on the type of harassment and the circumstances in which it takes place. As was the case for scenarios on abuse and violence explored in earlier chapters, in each case respondents were asked what they thought of the man's, or men's, behaviour on a 7-point scale where 1 was 'not wrong at all' and 7 was 'very seriously wrong'. Respondents were also asked how much harm they thought these actions did to the woman in the case of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The first section of this chapter examines three of the scenarios, all of which were included in both 2014 and 2019: sexual harassment in the workplace, wolf whistling by a group of strangers, and stalking by an ex-boyfriend. These three scenarios were worded as follows:

Sexual harassment in the workplace: 'Imagine a woman who has always got on fine with her boss. Recently he has told her how pretty she is and has started touching her shoulder whenever he speaks to her.'

Wolf whistling by a group of strangers: 'Imagine a woman is walking down the street. She passes a group of men who start wolf-whistling and saying things like "hey sexy" to her.'

Stalking by an ex-boyfriend: 'Imagine a woman who broke up with her boyfriend a few months ago. He wants them to get back together, she does not. He has been sending flowers and gifts to her work and home even though she has told him she doesn't want them.'[25]

It should be noted that each of these scenarios represents a different type of relationship between the perpetrator and victim, which contain elements, in addition to the gender dynamic, which are also likely to inform people's responses. The first question is about a relationship which involves a power dynamic between a boss and employee, the second is between strangers and the third represents stalking where there has previously been an intimate relationship.

Online sexual harassment is discussed later in this chapter.

How wrong and harmful do people think sexual harassment is?

Table 5.1 highlights views on the first three sexual harassment scenarios explored: sexual harassment in the workplace, wolf whistling by a group of strangers and stalking by an ex-boyfriend. For each of these types of sexual harassment, the vast majority of people believed that they were wrong (with a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale). Four in five people (80%) felt the behaviour of the boss was wrong, whilst the proportions who felt the same about the group of men wolf-whistling and the man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend stood at 76% and 74% respectively.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was the scenario most likely to be considered 'very seriously wrong', with almost half (45%) viewing the behaviour of the boss touching an employee's shoulder in this way. By comparison, around 4 in 10 (39%) thought that a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman was 'very seriously wrong', and 3 in 10 (30%) thought the behaviour of the man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend was 'very seriously wrong'. It is clear that a majority of people believe these types of sexually harassing behaviour are wrong, although they are not viewed as negatively as some of the other abusive behaviours discussed in this report, including domestic abuse (7 in 10 people viewed verbal domestic abuse as 'very seriously wrong', and 9 in 10 said the same of physical domestic abuse).

While views on workplace sexual harassment did not change substantially between 2014 and 2019, views on some of the other sexually harassing behaviours did. The biggest shift in attitudes between 2014 and 2019 related to the perceived wrongness of a group of men wolf-whistling to a woman walking down the street. In 2014 a quarter (25%) of people described the behaviour of the men as 'very seriously wrong', increasing by 14 percentage points to 39% in 2019. There has also been a substantial change in the number of people who thought that this behaviour was wrong (giving it a score of 5 or more on the scale): 66% in 2014 compared with 76% in 2019. People were also more likely to report that the behaviour of the man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend was wrong in 2019 than was the case five years previously. In 2019, 3 in 10 (30%) felt the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', an eleven-percentage-point increase from 2014 (19%), whilst the percentage who gave this behaviour a score of 5 or more on the scale also increased by a similar proportion (62% in 2014 compared with 74% in 2019). Although there was no significant change between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion who felt that the boss touching an employee's shoulder was 'very seriously wrong', there has been a small but significant increase in the proportion who felt that the behaviour was 'not wrong' (a score of 1-3 on the scale). In 2014, 9% said they felt the boss' behaviour was 'not wrong', increasing to 12% in 2019.

Table 5.1: Attitudes towards sexual harassment in the workplace, wolf-whistling and a man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend
Boss touching shoulder Group of men wolf-whistling Man sending unwanted gifts to ex-girlfriend
(%) (%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019 2014 2019
7 Very seriously wrong 46 45 25 39 19 30
6 21 22 20 19 20 24
5 15 12 21 18 23 20
4 8 8 15 10 18 11
3 4 6 9 6 10 6
2 2 3 6 4 6 4
1 Not wrong at all 2 4 4 4 4 3
Don't know / Refusal 2 1 * * * 1
Weighted base 1,433 964 1,433 964 1,433 964
Unweighted base 1,428 952 1,428 952 1,428 952

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

'*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

In 2019, as in 2014, respondents were also asked how harmful they thought the behaviour of the boss touching the female employee's shoulder was to her, with possible answer options ranging from 'a great deal' of harm to 'none at all'. In line with views on the perceived wrongness of the boss' behaviour, there was no change between 2014 and 2019 in the extent to which people felt the behaviour harmed the woman, with around three-fifths (58% in 2014 and 60% in 2019) thinking the behaviour of the boss caused either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot of harm' to the woman in both 2014 and 2019.

How do attitudes towards sexual harassment vary between groups?

This section examines whether attitudes to sexual harassment in the three scenarios varied by the following respondent characteristics:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income
  • Area deprivation
  • Religious identity
  • Whether someone had ever experienced gender-based violence
  • Whether they held stereotypical views on gender roles[26]

Attitudes towards sexual harassment at work varied significantly between a number of groups. As shown in Figure 5.1, people aged 65 and over and those aged 18 to 34 were the least likely to think that a male boss touching a female employee's shoulder is wrong. Around two-fifths of those aged 65 and over (39%) and those aged 18 to 34 (41%) thought the behaviour of the boss was 'very seriously wrong', compared with around half of those in the middle age groups (50% of those aged 35 to 44 and 55% of those aged 45 to 54).

Figure 5.1: Believing the behaviour of the boss is 'very seriously wrong' by age (2019, %)
Bar chart showing how attitudes to the wrongness of workplace sexual harassment vary by age

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

Meanwhile, those in the highest income group were the most likely to believe the behaviour of the boss was wrong. Over half (55%) of those in the highest income group thought his behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', compared with 42% of those in all other income groups. No other factors were found to be significantly related to attitudes to workplace sexual harassment.

Attitudes towards the harm varied significantly across a number of different subgroups. Whilst men's and women's views on the perceived wrongness of a male boss touching a female employee's shoulder were similar, men were significantly more likely to believe the behaviour is harmful. Almost two-thirds (64%) of men thought this behaviour caused either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm, compared with 57% of women.

Meanwhile, and similarly to how wrong the behaviour is viewed as being, the oldest and youngest age groups were the least likely to believe that the boss' behaviour causes the female employee either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm. Half (50%) of those aged 65 and over, and a similar proportion of those aged 18 to 34 (57%),[27] perceived these actions as harmful, compared with as many as 71% of those aged 45 to 54.

There was also significant variation between different groups in how wrong people believed a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman walking by to be. Although men and women held similar views on how wrong it is for a male boss to touch a female employee, men were more likely than women to believe that the behaviour of the group of men wolf-whistling was 'very seriously wrong' (43% and 35% respectively).[28] Age was also significantly associated with attitudes to wolf whistling, with younger people being significantly more likely than older people to say that this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. Just under half (45%) of those aged 18 to 54 believed that groups of men wolf-whistling was 'very seriously wrong,' compared with around 3 in 10 (29%) of those aged 55 and over.

Figure 5.2 shows that those educated to degree-level were more likely to view the behaviour of the men wolf-whistling as 'very seriously wrong' compared with those with lower levels of education (45% of those educated to degree-level compared with 32% of those with no formal qualifications), as were those in the highest income group compared with those in all other income groups (48% and 36% respectively).[29] Those who have not experienced any kind of gender-based violence were also more likely to view the behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' compared with those who have (41% compared with 35% respectively).[30]

Figure 5.2: Believing group of men wolf-whistling is 'very seriously wrong', by education (2019, %)
Bar chart showing belief that men wolf-whistling is very seriously wrong rises with education level

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

Since 2014, the proportion of people viewing the behaviour of the group of men wolf-whistling as 'very seriously wrong' has increased across the board, but the change is greater in some subgroups than others. Although attitudes have changed among all age groups, there has been a much more pronounced change in the views of younger people than older people. Between 2014 and 2019, there was a 16-percentage-point increase among those aged 18 to 34 in the proportion believing the men's behaviour is 'very seriously wrong' (from 29% in 2014 to 44% in 2019), compared with only a 9-percentage-point increase among those aged 65 and over (from 20% in 2014 to 29% in 2019).

The increase in the percentage of people with no religious identity who believed the behaviour of the men wolf-whistling was 'very seriously wrong' was greater than the increase among those who identify as belonging to a religion. Over two-fifths (43%) of those with no religious identity thought this was the case in 2019, compared with just over one-fifth (22%) in 2014, a change of 21 percentage points. In contrast, the gap between 2014 and 2019 for those who identified as belonging to a religion was only 6 percentage points, rising from 26% in 2014 to 32% in 2019. In both 2014 and 2019, those educated to degree level were the most likely to believe the behaviour of the men wolf-whistling was 'very seriously wrong', and there has been a significant rise in the proportion who believed this between 2014 and 2019: 18 percentage points, compared with a 6-percentage-point increase among those with no formal educational qualifications.[31]

The third scenario considered attitudes towards a form of stalking, a man sending unwanted gifts to an ex-girlfriend. As we have seen, attitudes towards this form of harassment are less likely to be considered wrong than the two previously mentioned. There is also less variation found between groups. Interestingly, a different pattern emerges with age regarding attitudes towards the ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts compared with views on workplace harassment and men wolf-whistling. Those aged 65 and over were the most likely to view the behaviour of the man sending unwanted gifts to an ex-girlfriend as 'very seriously wrong', with two-fifths (40%) reporting this. By comparison, younger people were less likely to regard this behaviour as 'very seriously wrong', with a quarter (25%) of those aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 44 believing so. Since 2014, opinions towards this type of harassment have moved at about the same rate across all age groups.

The fact that there is no consistent pattern within and between groups about which scenarios of sexual harassment are wrong or harmful suggests that it is viewed differently at the individual level. Even age, which was statistically significant across all three scenarios, did not show a consistent pattern, with younger people being among the least likely to believe that a boss sexually harassing a female member of staff and an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts was 'very seriously wrong', but most likely to believe that a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman was 'very seriously wrong'.

Attitudes towards online sexual harassment

Attitudes to online sexual harassment were gauged by presenting respondents with two scenarios and asking how what they thought of the man's, or men's, behaviour on a 7-point scale where 1 was 'not wrong at all' and 7 was 'very seriously wrong'. For the 'revenge porn' scenario, respondents were also asked how much harm they thought these actions did to the woman. The first of the scenarios listed below was asked in both 2014 and 2019, allowing for a comparison in views over this period to be made. Specifically, the scenarios read:

Revenge porn: 'Imagine a woman sent some naked photos of herself to her boyfriend. After they split up, he puts them on the internet without telling her, so that anyone could see them.'[32]

Stalking on social media: 'Imagine Peter knows a woman, Rachel, through a friend. Rachel uses social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She posts something most days about what she's been up to. Peter always comments on these posts even though Rachel has asked him to stop.'

It should be noted that these questions contain several elements that could have influenced people's responses. The first question asks how people feel about a breach of trust involved in sharing something private after a relationship has ended and how wrong people feel it is for someone to have a naked picture of themselves freely available online. Responses may also be influenced by people's views about the portrayal of nudity in public in any circumstance. Responses to the second question may be influenced by people's experience of social media use and their own comfort with interacting with people online.

As Table 5.2 shows, people clearly view these two types of online sexual harassment differently. Whilst 94% view the behaviour of the man posting naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend online as 'very seriously wrong', only 31% view the actions of the man stalking the woman on social media in the same way. The actions of the man who puts naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend online are therefore by far the most likely to be considered 'very seriously wrong' of all five of the sexual harassment scenarios asked about. In contrast, 45% of people considered the behaviour of the boss touching the female employee's shoulder, the scenario viewed as the next most serious, as 'very seriously wrong'. While the social media stalking was considered to be among the least serious, that is not to say that people did not find the behaviour wrong, as around three-quarters (75%) gave this behaviour a score of 5 or more on the scale.

Table 5.2: Attitudes towards 'revenge porn' and social media stalking (2019)
Ex puts naked pictures on the internet Social media stalking
(%) (%)
7 Very seriously wrong 94 31
6 3 27
5 1 18
4 1 12
3 * 5
2 * 4
1 Not wrong at all 1 2
Don't know / Refusal * 2
Weighted base 964 964
Unweighted base 952 952

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

'*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

There has been a small, but statistically significant, increase in the proportion of people who believed the actions of the ex-boyfriend posting naked pictures on the internet to be 'very seriously wrong' between 2014 (88%) and 2019 (94%). There was a similar level of change between 2014 and 2019 in the perceived level of harm which this action does to the woman. In 2019, over 9 in 10 (92%) thought the man's actions caused 'a great deal of harm' to the woman, an increase of 5 percentage points from 2014, when 87% thought the same. It is perhaps the case that the strengthening of negative views towards this behaviour reflects the different legal context in which the scenario was presented in 2019. It was only after fieldwork ended for SSA 2014 that the UK and Scottish Governments announced plans to bring in specific legislation to criminalise putting naked photos of others online without their permission. This was followed by extensive public awareness campaigns, including 'Not yours to share', from the Scottish Government and various partners which aimed to both raise awareness and challenge victim blaming attitudes. In 2019, the public may therefore have been more aware of this behaviour as a criminal offence.

How do attitudes towards online sexual harassment vary between groups?

In a similar way to other sections in this report, this section examines whether attitudes to online sexual harassment varied by gender, age, education, income, area deprivation, religious identity, whether someone had ever experienced gender-based violence, and whether they held stereotypical views on gender roles.

In the first scenario, where a man puts naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend online without her consent, two factors were found to be significantly related to attitudes: gender and income. Women were more likely than men to think that the behaviour of the man who puts naked photos of his ex-girlfriend online was 'very seriously wrong' (95% compared with 92%).[33]

Those with higher household incomes were also significantly more likely to believe the behaviour of the man was 'very seriously wrong' compared with lower household income groups (98% of those in the highest income group compared with 91% in the lowest income group).

The significant increase of 5 percentage points between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion believing that the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', discussed above, seems to have been mainly driven by a change in the attitudes of those in the highest income group. Between 2014 and 2019, there was a 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of people from the highest income group who thought the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (from 88% in 2014 to 98% in 2019) compared with only a 2-percentage-point increase among the lowest income group (from 89% in 2014 to 91% in 2019).

In relation to views on the level of harm people believed this form of online sexual harassment did, given that the vast majority of people felt this did 'a great deal' of harm, there were no significant differences between subgroups.

In 2019, SSA asked people about attitudes to stalking on social media through persistent social media messages. As previously noted, in general people regarded this behaviour as less serious than many of the other types of harassment asked about. However, there were significant variations between groups in how wrong people believed this behaviour to be. In contrast to views on the previous types of sexual harassment discussed above, those in the lowest income group were more likely than those in the highest income group to believe this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (42% compared with 28% respectively).[34] Similarly, those with no formal educational qualifications were more likely than those educated to degree-level to believe the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (38% compared with 28% respectively).[35] Meanwhile, the only notable difference in views to online harassment by area deprivation was over the perceived wrongness of social media stalking. Those living in the most deprived areas were the most likely to think that stalking on social media was 'very seriously wrong' (46% compared with 27% of those living in all other areas).

Attitudes on the wrongness of stalking on social media also varied depending on people's experience of gender-based violence. People who had not experienced any kind of gender-based violence were more likely than those who had to think that social media stalking was 'very seriously wrong' (34% compared with 26% respectively).

The fact that none of the factors that responses were broken down by were found to be consistently associated with the different types of sexual harassment discussed in this chapter, suggests that people take a different view on sexual harassment depending on the nature of the harassment, the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, and/or the context within which it occurs.

Attitudes towards male friend telling a sexist joke

People in Scotland in 2019 now view some types of sexual harassment as more serious than they did in 2014: notably views on wolf-whistling, an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts, and putting naked pictures of an ex-girlfriend online. However, in 2014 SSA did not explore views on the use of sexist language by men, which has the potential to perpetuate or sustain prejudiced views.[36] In 2019, SSA explored this issue by presenting respondents with a scenario about a male friend telling a sexist joke, and then asking respondents how wrong this is, followed by a question on how likely they would be to tell the male friend that their joke was wrong.[37] The exact wording read:

'Imagine you and your friends took a taxi and the journey took longer than usual. Once you've got out of the taxi, your male friend jokes that of course it took longer than usual because the taxi driver was a woman.'

'How likely would you be to tell your friend that he was wrong to make that joke?'[38]

A male friend telling a sexist joke was clearly viewed as less serious than the other examples of sexual harassment asked about in 2019. Only a quarter (25%) viewed the friend's behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' (see Table 5.3). A similar picture emerges when considering the proportion who thought the male friend telling a sexist joke was 'wrong' by giving it a score of 5 or above on the scale. Although nearly two-thirds (65%) viewed the telling of a sexist joke as 'wrong', it was still considered the least serious of all scenarios presented (the next least serious scenario, a man sending unwanted gifts to an ex-girlfriend, was viewed as 'wrong' by 74% of people). In fact, 17% thought the friend telling a sexist joke was 'not wrong' (a score of 1-3 on the scale).

Table 5.3: Attitudes towards a friend who tells a sexist joke (2019)
Friend tells a sexist joke
(%)
7 Very seriously wrong 25
6 19
5 22
4 17
3 7
2 5
1 Not wrong at all 5
Don't know / Refusal 1
Weighted base 964
Unweighted base 952

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

Interestingly, among those who thought the friend's joke was wrong to some extent (giving it a score of 2 or more on the scale), almost two-fifths (38%) said they would be 'very likely' to tell their friend they were wrong to make the joke (see Table 5.4). This increased to around two-thirds of people (65%) who said they would be either 'very likely' or 'quite likely' to tell their friend that they were wrong to tell the sexist joke. Only 17% said they were either 'quite unlikely' or 'very unlikely' to do so.

Table 5.4: Likelihood of telling a friend a sexist joke is wrong (2019)
Tells friend sexist joke is wrong
(%)
Very likely 38
Quite likely 26
Neither likely nor unlikely 18
Quite unlikely 9
Very unlikely 8
Don't know / Refusal *
Weighted base 907
Unweighted base 893

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion and gave a score of 2 or above for the question on perceived wrongness of their friend's joke.

'*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

How do attitudes towards sexist jokes vary between groups?

Attitudes on the perceived wrongness of the male friend telling a sexist joke only varied significantly by household income. Those with lower household incomes were more likely than those with higher incomes to consider the joke 'very seriously wrong', with one-third (33%) of those in the lowest income group reporting this compared with around one-fifth (19%) of those in the highest income group.[39]

Views on whether people would tell their friend that they were wrong to make the sexist joke varied by gender and age. Women were around twice as likely as men to say they were 'very likely' to tell their friend he was wrong to tell the sexist joke (50% of women compared with 26% of men). Younger people were more likely than older people to say that they were 'very likely' to tell their friend that he was wrong to tell the sexist joke, with just under half (44%) of those aged 18 to 44 saying this compared with a third (33%) of those aged 45 and over.

Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot

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