Sadly, Most Teens Think Sexual Harassment Is Just Part of Any Job


An investigative report out of Oregon draws a depressing conclusion: Workplace harassment of teenage workers is so ubiquitous that many think it comes with the territory.

The sexual harassment mentioned in this profile include one girl’s supervisor stripping off her clothes and taking pictures of her, then reaching for her genitals; when she applied for the job, that same supervisor made her send a naked picture as a hiring condition.

The other stories are similarly harrowing. What they also have in common was that the victims were unlikely to speak up, not only because such treatment is not much different from what they’re subjected to in a school environment, but because they are afraid of losing a desperately needed paycheck:

When it comes to reporting harassment, young people often feel a range of emotions, from embarrassment to fears they won’t be believed. Such worries can trump instincts to tell an adult. Teens, who face a national unemployment rate nearly three times higher than older workers, may need the money too badly to speak up.

Furthermore, state labor bureaus, as well as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are ill equipped to deal with teen harassment complaints. The article cites a survey in which 1 in 3 teenage workers reported being harassed on the job, yet the EEOC doesn’t collect birthdates when formal complaints occur, making it hard to track progress on this issue. This extends to the commission’s outreach programs, such as Young@Work, which were supposed to educate high school students about sexual harassment, but at least in Oregon, few people can recall any programming or effect from such an effort.

Too bad, because researchers also document serious effects from sexual harassment for teens. Such workers are likelier to have their grades slip or express less interest in building a career because of the treatment they’ve experienced. Says one worker who has been victimized, Jennifer Mill:

“It affected my self esteem in that I felt my self worth and capabilities as an employee and student were tied to my physical appearance,” said Mill, who also worried about experiencing harassment at future jobs. “I felt that perhaps my male professors were only giving me A’s because I was pretty, not because I studied hard and earned it.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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