What is sexual harassment?

The Swedish Gender Equality Policy’s sixth objective is about stopping men’s violence towards women, which also includes abuses of power such as sexual harassment. Cumulative knowledge shows that the perpetrators are mainly boys and men and that it is mainly girls and young women who are the victims of sexual harassment.

A man placing his hand on the back of chair, in which a woman is sitting.

Discrimination and sexual harassment

There are six different forms of discrimination according to the Swedish Discrimination Act. One of these is sexual harassment. This may consist of comments and gestures of a sexual nature, groping or showing pornographic images. It may also be unwelcome compliments, invitations, allusions and demands for sexual services.

Sexual harassment can also be a criminal act, such as defamation or gross defamation, unlawful invasion of privacy, abusive photography, molestation or sexual molestation.

How common is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a major societal problem. Women are victims of sexual harassment and harassment because of gender more often than men, and young women are more frequent victims than older women.

A 2014 report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) indicated that about 55 per cent of women in the EU’s 28 member countries have been subjected to sexual harassment at least once after reaching the age of 15. 21 per cent of the women had been victims during the year before taking part in the survey.

The Swedish population survey Våld och hälsa (Violence and Health) of 2014, carried out by the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women (NCK), showed that 44 per cent of the women in the survey and 12 per cent of men had been victims of sexual harassment before reaching the age of 18. 38 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men had been victim of sexual harassment after reaching the age of 18.

Young women in their late teens and beyond are over-represented among those who say that they have been victims of sexual offences, according to the Crime Prevention Council’s national personal security survey in 2017. The recently published population survey Sexuell och reproduktiv hälsa och rättigheter i Sverige 2017 (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Sweden) also shows that 57 per cent of young women in the 16-29 age group state that they have been the victims of sexual harassment at some time. 55 per cent of the same target group have experienced sexual assault.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s 2018 work environment survey also showed that young women are the most frequent victims of sexual harassment. 30 per cent of women aged 16-29 had been subjected to sexual harassment by managers, colleagues and/or other persons at work during the previous 12 months. A quarter of young women in the same age group had been subjected to sexual harassment by customers, patients, clients, passengers or pupils, for example. The survey defined sexual harassment as unwelcome advances or abusive allusions relating to things that are generally associated with sex.

Children and young people

Statistics also show that children and young people are frequently subjected to sexual harassment. The Swedish anti-bullying organisation Friends’ report of 2019 stated that 11 per cent of the girls and 6 per cent of boys surveyed in years 3 – 6, as well as 14 per cent of girls and 6 per cent of boys in years 6 – 9 have been subjected to sexual harassment from another pupil at school during the previous year. In schools, the perpetrators of harassment are usually other pupils of a similar age, but they may also be adults at the school.

Friends’ 2017 survey of online harassment reported that 18 per cent of girls and 6 per cent of boys had been exposed to sexual harassment on the internet. Examples include comments on their appearance with a sexual allusion or the spreading of rumours. It can also be that someone has spread pictures of them against their will with comments or allusions about sex or receiving suggestions for sexual acts. ​

In Swedish #metoo messages, such as in #räckupphanden and #tystiklassen, young girls have talked about being exposed to sexual harassment and assault in school. The national young persons’ site umo.se (opens in a new window) also has a number of statements on experiences of sexual harassment.

Publication date: 9 June 2021

Last updated: 26 March 2024