Nearly half of Hawaii workers have been sexually harassed at work though most never reported it, according to a new survey conducted by Safe Spaces and Workplaces, a new local organization.

The survey asked more than 600 Hawaii residents about whether they experienced sexual harassment — ranging from sexual comments to unwanted touching — at work.

Most said the harassment occurred at their worksite and was perpetrated by a coworker. The industries with the highest rates of harassment were the manufacturing, technology, nonprofit and hospitality industries.

More than 52% of female respondents said they were sexually harassed and more than 42% of male respondents reported being sexually harassed. Women were more likely to say they were harassed by a boss or a vendor than men were. People who described their ethnicities as Korean, “Other Ethnicity” or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander also reported higher rates of harassment.

More than 30% of people who said they were sexually harassed said they told a coworker about it. But far fewer filed a formal complaint or told their union.

Reporting was less likely among people born in Hawaii — survey respondents who said they were lifelong Hawaii residents were half as likely to report harassment than Hawaii transplants were.

The survey also found sexual harassment rates were higher in organizations that lacked harassment prevention training. Rachael Wong, who is among the founders of Safe Spaces and Workplaces, described the survey results and contrasted them with a different survey by Hawaii Business magazine, which found 91% of local business owners say the #MeToo movement hasn’t affected them and 96% say they haven’t gotten complaints.

Those responses make sense to Makana Chai, an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and is working with Safe Spaces and Workplaces. Chai has spent decades doing sexual harassment training and consulting in Hawaii and the mainland and says in her experience, “Hawaii employers are far less likely to be proactive.”

“They are far less likely to have training unless they have an active complaint,” she says.

The good news is, she says, the survey findings show “when employers take it seriously, when they have policies and procedures, the rate (of sexual harassment) is lower.”

‘Not Surprised’

Wong is a former state department head who filed a sexual harassment ethics complaint against former House Speaker Joseph Souki. Her complaint prompted several women to file similar complaints against Souki and he eventually resigned.

Rachael Wong presser with Dan Gluck, ethiics commission.
Rachael Wong’s ethics complaint against former House Speaker Joseph Souki eventually led to his resignation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But Wong says now that she was naive — even after Souki left office, the other women who had filed complaints about him didn’t want to make their names public.

“After the complaint was resolved nobody else felt like they were in a safe enough place to come forward,” Wong says. “It really sat with me that nothing had changed.”

Wong says she was invited by Karen Tan, the chief executive officer of Child & Family Service, to join a group of women from various industries to discuss their experiences with sexual harassment last spring. Wong and several others continued to meet and decided Safe Spaces and Workplaces needed to do research to understand the extent of the problem.

She wasn’t surprised by the survey results given the women and men who have reached out to her to share their stories since she went public with her experience.

“Most of the women are not surprised and many of the men are,” she says of the survey results.

She emphasizes that the survey is just a benchmark and Safe Spaces and Workplaces wants to create inclusive safe spaces based on Hawaii values.

“We actually are focusing on the possibilities that come with this,” she says. “How do we take the step beyond the #MeToo movement?” She hopes the new organization can work with employers to figure out the best way to help.

The group plans to formally present the survey findings and launch the organization Tuesday. Click here to read the full survey results.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author