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Americans think sexual harassment is a problem in Hollywood and DC — but not where they work

A tale of two charts.

March Supporting Sexual Assault Victims Held In Los Angeles David McNew/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Sexual misconduct allegations have rocked Hollywood, the media, and Capitol Hill this week. These high-profile accusations — from Charlie Rose to Sen. Al Franken to Rep. John Conyers — reveal systemic problems within these fields.

And voters think those industries — but not their own workplaces — are where the problem of sexual harassment is most prevalent. A Politico/Morning Consult Poll, which asked voters about the recent allegations against Franken and Roy Moore, also surveyed Americans to gauge their perceptions about sexual harassment in the workplace across industries.

Hollywood led, with 59 percent of voters saying harassment represented a big problem in the entertainment industry. The federal government came in second, with 43 percent, and the news media next, with 36 percent. Other political fields, such as local and state government, also got a third of votes. (The poll surveyed 2,586 registered American voters from November 16 to 18.)

But voters were less likely to see the problems as close to home: When they were asked about their own workplace (presumably representing a slew of different industries) only 16 percent of respondents said harassment or misconduct was a problem.

This finding — a sort of “anywhere but here” perception — likely speaks more to the insidious cycle of sexual harassment and silence. It also suggests most Americans don’t understand that sexual harassment is a prevailing problem.

A recent revealing study from the Center for American Progress analyzed harassment claims across the workforce, and it found it’s not just a problem in prestigious, high-profile fields.

As Vox’s Emily Stewart wrote about the study:

The accommodation and food services industry, which includes restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and other hospitality establishments, accounted for 14.2 percent of sexual harassment claims filed to the EEOC from 2005 to 2015. The retail industry accounted for an additional 13.4 percent of claims.

The categories and methodologies of the poll and the study are different. But the complaints underscore that sexual harassment is pervasive in the workforce across industries, particularly in low-wage or service positions often filled by women and minorities. These instances of harassment or misconduct “occur out of the glare of the spotlight,” as Jocelyn Frye, the report’s author, puts it.

The Politico/Morning Consult poll responses raise the question of whether the string of sexual misconduct allegations have spurred greater awareness beyond these high-profile predators and their fields. While it’s one poll, people may not see the #MeToo campaigns and heightened awareness as directly relating to their industry, where harassment can, and probably does, happen. It’s a misperception that might leave companies ill equipped to protect their workers, and leaves both women and men vulnerable.