Kinsey Institute Study Shows Female Gamers Only Label Half of Sexual Harassment Incidents They Experience as Such


BLOOMINGTON, Ind.  A new study from the Kinsey Institute reveals that only 50.5% of women who were targets of sexual harassment during online gaming identified qualifying incidents as such. This figure dropped further to only 42.2% for women who witnessed sexual harassment of other women while gaming.   

The study included 182 women from North America who played online video games at least once a week. Researchers examined a variety of sexual harassment behaviors, from unwanted sexual remarks to explicit images to sexual threats. In line with other studies, researchers found that the overall prevalence of sexual harassment during online gaming was high with 56.6% of participants experiencing one or more types of sexual harassment during online gaming and 45.6% witnessing sexual harassment perpetrated against other women.  

Most perpetrators were strangers (79.8%) and the most frequent types of sexual harassment included nonconsensual sexual remarks, persistent romantic requests after being asked to stop, and sexual threats. However, even in clear examples (including rape threats), many participants did not recognize their experiences as sexual harassment when asked to label them, sometimes dismissing the behaviors as “typical gamer interactions” instead. This is despite participants reporting these incidents caused varying degrees of distress (3.32), embarrassment (2.29), frustration (4.08), and fear (2.86), as measured on a 5-point scale. 

“These findings are consistent with a large body of research showing that women often do not label their nonconsensual sexual experiences as rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment. This is one factor that may prevent women from reporting these incidents,” said Dr. Zoë Peterson, Director of the Kinsey Institute’s Sexual Assault Research Initiative and senior researcher for this study. “It is unfair to expect women to bear the responsibility of seeking protection when online gaming companies could implement systems that proactively protect them.” 

The results suggest that online sexual harassment is a significant issue that causes mental distress and negatively impacts women's overall gaming experience, including for those around them who witness the interaction. The authors also highlight the need for gaming companies to proactively monitor and address these behaviors, beyond relying on gamer reports, to create a safer online environment and increase accountability for perpetrators.  

"As a female gamer myself, I have experienced and witnessed countless incidents of women getting harassed while gaming. I hope my research will help make the gaming community a better place by encouraging gaming organizations to come up with better ways to protect and support female gamers," said Yiyao Zhou, a doctoral student in counseling psychology and graduate assistant at the Kinsey Institute who led this study. 

Zhou, Y., & Peterson, Z. D. (2024). Women’s Experiences of Sexual Harassment in Online Gaming. Violence Against Women, 0(0).


About the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University  

For over 75 years, the Kinsey Institute has been the premier research institute on human sexuality and relationships and a trusted source for evidence-based information on critical issues in sexuality, gender, reproduction, and well-being. The Kinsey Institute's research program integrates scholarly fields including neuroscience, psychology, public health, anthropology, history, and gender studies.  Kinsey Institute outreach includes traveling art exhibitions, public scholarships, research lectures, and a human sexuality education program. Visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn. 

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