In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship

Most Russians Believe Problem of Sexual Harassment Exaggerated or Not a Problem

April 24, 2020
RM Staff

More than half of Russian men and women believe the problem of sexual harassment is either exaggerated or is not a problem at all, according to the Levada Center’s March 2020 poll. As many as 51 percent of women believe this problem is exaggerated, and 8 percent don’t see it as a problem. 

As for men, 60 percent believe the problem is exaggerated and 11 percent don’t see it as problem at all. Additionally, older respondents were less likely to see sexual harassment an issue, according to the poll. 

The fact that a majority of Russians don’t view sexual harassment as a problem, and that the percentage of those who hold this view increases with age, is all the more remarkable given the results of a poll of Russian workers published in the country’s once-independent Vedomosti daily earlier this year. According to the poll, every 6th female worker and every 13th male worker in Russia had experienced sexual harassment, and those aged between 45 and 54 were twice as likely to have encountered it than those between the ages of 18 and 24 (although, of course, the length of working experience was not controlled for).

Notably, the share of “non-believers” in sexual harassment has increased since 2006. A poll conducted by Levada that year showed that 16 percent of respondents did not believe a male boss’ suggestion to a female subordinate to meet outside of work constituted sexual harassment. This number halved to 8 percent in an identical poll in 2020 (see table below). In 2006, 36 percent of respondents considered a male boss asking out a female subordinate who had previously rejected him to be a case of sexual harassment, a number that also fell in 2020, to 31 percent. When presented with the scenario of a male boss trying to find ways to be alone with and in close proximity to a female subordinate, 27 percent said it was sexual harassment in 2006, and only 6 percent said it wasn’t. In 2020, the number of “non-believers” nearly tripled to 17 percent. The number of women who did not think the scenario was sexual harassment also tripled from 5 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2020, while the number of male “non-believers” rose less dramatically, from 8 percent to 19 percent.

The Levada Center notes that the poll illustrates a change in attitudes toward acceptable forms of courtship, as well as toward sexual violence and violence more generally, but does not say what may have caused the change. One possible explanation for the shift, in our view, is the promotion of what the Kremlin calls "conservative values," which discourage what adherents of such values controversially view as "excessive freedoms" for women in Russian.