Nearly two out of three women in the state have personally experienced sexual harassment, and half of all voters believe such harassment is a major problem in the workplace, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Sixty-three percent of women said they’ve had to endure sexual harassment, while just 11 percent of men said the same. Minnesotans’ own experiences with harassment, and whether they see it as a major problem, depends in part on where they live, their political affiliation and how old they are. Younger people, women, Democrats and Twin Cities residents were more likely to see it as a big issue.
With sexual harassment allegations against powerful men generating nearly daily headlines in recent months, 50 percent of all Minnesotans said sexual harassment in the workplace is a major problem. Another 35 percent said it’s a minor problem. But, even as the vast majority of the 800 registered voters who participated in the poll saw it as some kind of issue, only 2 percent said it’s a major problem in their workplace, with another 13 percent calling it a minor problem.
Forty-six percent of people said at their own workplace it is “no real problem.”
Michelle Karsten, a physician from Minneapolis, is one of many women who said sexual harassment is something she has had to handle throughout her career. She said she hopes people are not just discussing the particularly egregious cases, like the rape accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“There is still tons of the low-level stuff that doesn’t get called out, that hasn’t been acted upon,” said Karsten, 44. “Hopefully a shift is happening and the less egregious stuff is talked about at least. If nothing else, this has brought a conversation about. That was the whole idea of the ‘Me Too’ piece.”
The “Me Too” movement started in October as people took to social media to share personal stories of sexual harassment. Since then, numerous high-profile sexual harassment accusations emerged against politicians and members of the entertainment industry, including Al Franken, who resigned his U.S. Senate seat after facing allegations. Shortly after the movement began, a national ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 64 percent of Americans said workplace sexual harassment is a serious problem.
The Star Tribune’s poll was conducted Jan. 8-10. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Some answers were divided along political lines. Among Democrats, 72 percent said workplace sexual harassment is a major problem, while 31 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Independents felt that way. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to say sexual harassment accusations have been handled too harshly. Three times as many Democrats as Republicans reported experiencing sexual harassment.
Views also shifted along regional lines. In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, 51 percent said they’d personally experienced sexual harassment — much higher than the 33 percent in other Twin Cities suburbs, 27 percent in southern Minnesota and 28 percent in northern Minnesota. The numbers also dropped as ages increased, with 45 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds having experienced harassment, compared with 31 percent of people over 65.
Peter Sedgeman, a financial analyst at a hospital, was one of many who said sexual harassment is not really an issue at his workplace. Overall, he thinks it is a relatively minor issue. “I personally don’t see it and I haven’t experienced it,” said Sedgeman, 34, of Warren.
He is among the 19 percent of Minnesotans who feel the actions taken against people accused of sexual harassment have been too harsh. After accusations emerge, the firings, resignations or suspensions happen quickly, he said, and there’s not a chance to get to the bottom of what actually happened.
“We need to wait for some due process to give a chance for the stories of both sides to be heard,” Sedgeman said.
However, 62 percent of people said the repercussions for people accused of the behavior have been about right. Ten percent said they were too lenient. When given a chance to expand on their answers, many people said it is hard to sum up their feelings on how cases have been handled, because it depends on the situation.
Linda Dalsin, of Bloomington, is “not an Al Franken fan.” But she disagreed with how accusations against him were handled. “Do I think he behaved stupidly? Sure. Do I think he should have resigned from the Senate? No,” she said.
When the accusations that he sexually harassed and groped women came out, Franken apologized and offered to go through a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Dalsin said she wished he had gone through that process. But he resigned after many of his female colleagues in Congress called for him to do so.
Dalsin, 70, is retired. She has four daughters in the workforce whom she worries about, including one in the film industry. She has heard stories from them about the prevalence of sexual harassment. Nonetheless, some allegations still surprise her, like those against television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.
“I think there’s more that’s going to come to light,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to be shocked anymore.”
There should be a fair process to evaluate future accusations, she said. But she does hope people will continue to shed light on those who are acting inappropriately. “So many women are finding their voice. So many women are not fearful,” Dalsin said.
Joi Juaire-Darfler, 60, of Burnsville, was less optimistic that people will continue to speak up. And she was not particularly hopeful the firings and resignations of well-known figures will improve how sexual harassment is generally handled. Companies’ upper management must show sexual harassment is not tolerated and there will be consequences, said Juaire-Darfler, who is not currently working but previously was employed in nursing and customer service. Co-workers need to support victims, she said.
Businesses should designate someone to handle such issues, said Larry Everett, of Apple Valley. He worries about workers at small companies that do not have a human resources department. Employees could end up in an “impossible situation” and have to leave to avoid harassment, he said.
Everett, who is 83, was shocked that 63 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment. However, female respondents said the actual number is likely higher, and not everyone reported experiences.
“Wow,” Everett said quietly. “I wouldn’t have thought it would be that high.”