One in three teenagers report being sexually harassed at work, according to a recent survey.
A study polled 518 teens in 2008 and 2009 and found that one-third said they had experienced a type of sexual harassment. But even that figure likely masks the real number, Laura Gunderson reports at The Oregonian, as many probably don’t report the abuse. Nationally, as few as 5 percent of adults will file a complaint, and researchers say younger workers are even less likely to do so. As Gunderson writes, they often “don’t realize the graphic comments and unwanted touching they may have tolerated in school constitutes sexual harassment at work,” and of those who realize something is wrong, “many are too scared, embarrassed, or in need of a paycheck to speak up.”
One 18-year-old’s experience illustrates this problem. In a lawsuit filed with the Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon, she says that the harassment started even before she got the job. She applied for a position at a tanning salon, only to be told by the manager that she had to send him a nude photo of herself as a condition of getting the job. She complied, as her boyfriend had just moved out after a break up and she needed a job to keep her apartment. Once she was on the job, she alleges that her boss cornered her in a booth, stripped off her clothes, and took pictures. She asked him to stop and pushed him away when he reached for her genitals. Given that she needed the paycheck for rent, she later asked police, “What was I supposed to do?”
The ramifications of sexual harassment at a younger age can be lasting. Many of the people in the study said their grades suffered and they can lose interest in school. They became less interested in getting another job, fearing others will expose them to harassment all over again. Some can suffer from depression and stress disorders.
And unfortunately, they may be right to worry about harassment later in their careers. One in five women report being sexually harassed by a superior, while one in four say they have been harassed by a coworker. Men also report harassment. And while there were over 11,000 charges filed against employers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Employment Practices agencies around the country in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data, 70 percent of people who say they’ve been harassed don’t report it.
Harassment continues to have serious ramifications even for older workers, who can have higher rates of stress and depression, decrease their productivity, and increase their time away from work. Employers fare no better, as they can experience higher job turnover, lower morale, and of course legal fees if suits are brought against them.
But many employers not only don’t take action against harassment, they can create conditions where it may be seen as more acceptable. In a class action lawsuit just filed against the country’s largest retail jewelry company, one woman says that reporting the sexual harassment she experienced resulted in her getting fewer hours on the schedule and then being taken off of it altogether, while another was told to stop being sensitive and get back to work. One manager training guide blamed women for any unwanted advances from coworkers and told them to change their clothing, body language, and speech, without a mention of the option to report incidents to a superior. Female workers at Merrill Lynch say they were told to seduce their way to the top. Other examples of employers making women feel like sex objects on the job have cropped up across industries.