Most parents are pretty diligent about protecting their kids from online sexual predators, but how many have ever considered there might be predators at their kid’s part-time jobs? A teenager is far more likely to encounter a sexual predator on the job than online.
Sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse are becoming a silent epidemic in retail outlets, restaurants, and places where young people work. Forty-six percent of teenage girls working part-time jobs reported that they have encountered some type of inappropriate behavior from a boss while at work and it’s estimated that more than 200,000 teens, both female and male, are victims of sexual harassment on the job every year.
What is sexual harassment? It’s unwanted sexual behavior and it can take many different forms including, but not limited to, physical contact like groping or grabbing; sexual comments, like name calling, starting rumors, discussions that are sexual in nature, repeated sexual jokes, or remarks about your body; sexual propositions, such as repeated advances for which you’ve declined; stalking; threats; or unwanted communications, like text messages, phone calls, instant messages, or emails.
Very few teens are prepared to face sexual harassment. Few parents realize it’s a problem or a very real threat. Schools rarely discuss it. Employers don’t spend money educating transient part-time workers. And, I even found in my online research, that there isn’t an abundant amount of information online for teens on how to deal with and/or report sexual abuse, bullying, or harassment.
“Sexual harassment is always unacceptable, but when some of the victims are vulnerable teenagers, it is especially unconscionable,” said EEOC’s Acting Chairman, Stuart Ishimaru. Teens that aren’t prepared or educated on how to handle sexual harassment are often too embarrassed to report it. They may be too immature, or unaware of their rights. They may be so eager to please at their new job that they don’t want to rock the boat. Many times it goes unreported until later, when someone else raises a harassment charge against the same person.
Think about it. What better place for a predator to try to land a job, where they can take advantage of polite, obedient, eager to please teenage employees where they know the chances of getting caught are slim. Harassers and predators are manipulative, and very good at blaming the victim. Be aware, it’s more likely to happen in small mom and pop shops where there are no documented policies against sexual harassment.
So what should a teen do who encounters sexual harassment? Situations are unique so it’s hard to give a definitive answer, but, they should always refuse to join in or accept it. Ask the offender to stop. Some times that’s enough but often times the offender will laugh it off, or turn it on the employee saying they asked for it. Always tell parents and/or an adult you trust. Keep a record of all the occurrences, i.e., save pictures, videos, texts, and keep notes. If you see it happening to a co-worker, step in and try to help. If it continues to be a problem, don’t be afraid to speak up, report to higher ups or authorities, or take legal action.
In the instance of under aged victims of sexual harassment or abuse, it can be both a civil offense, and a criminal one. Even if an under aged teenager succumbs to a sexual relationship with a boss, it’s considered statutory rape.
Here is a list of resources for concerned parents and victims published by Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Also, the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has a section specifically targeted for Youth at Work. PBS did a documentary in 2009 addressing the epidemic, titled Is Your Daughter Safe at Work? Even if you don’t watch the episode, the website offers a great deal of useful information.
“There are workshops and lesson for kindergartners and first-graders on good touch, bad touch, and saying no,” says E.J Graff, Associate Director and Senior Researchers of the Gender & Justice Project at Braindeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. “But we need more sophisticated lessons at 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. We don’t offer that, and that’s when they start developing.” Until there is more awareness on teenager sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse in the workplace, parent’s must be diligent about educating their kids and keeping a watchful eye, just like you do by checking their online activity. Visit their workplaces and observe how their bosses interact. As an involved parent, you may unknowingly send a message to a predator that they’re not going to get away with harassing your kid.