CWEALF has been examining teens’ experiences of sexual harassment in school over the last three years. Extending beyond the school, it seemed unfortunately plausible that the same acts could be occurring in workplaces for youth. Following a literature review, and seeing the lack of attention to this important issue, we decided to take a look ourselves. Sexual harassment is legally denied as the unwelcome attention of a sexual nature, occurring through verbal and/pr physical interaction. These acts can be persistent or one time occurrences, but the key is the lack of consent from the person being sexually harassed.
About 140 students from 15-18, in different areas of Connecticut, and in both school sponsored and non-school sponsored workplaces took the anonymous survey. The goals of the survey were to measure knowledge, experiences and attitudes related to sexual harassment of students in the workplace.
We found that 40% of students experienced unwanted comments about their clothing, body, or experiences, 30% reported someone making sexual gestures or facial expressions at them, and 25% were touched, kissed, or stroked in a sexual way. While some findings were comparable whether students were in non-school sponsored or school-sponsored workplaces, incidence rates of some specific types of sexual harassment were higher in non-school sponsored workplaces. In non-school sponsored workplaces, twice as many students had been promised an employment incentive in exchange for sexual favors (9.4% in non-school sponsored workplaces v. 5.1% in school sponsored workplaces) and more respondents reported being threatened if they did not comply with a sexual request (11.6% v. 6.5%).
Another troubling finding was found in data reflecting youths’ attitudes around such behaviors. 30% of students did not think certain behaviors constituted sexual harassment, including coworkers’ unwelcome comments about body/appearance or sexual identity, and watching inappropriate videos near them.72% felt that how a person dresses or behaves can precipitate sexual harassment in the workplace. Further, for students who experienced sexual harassment but did not report it, the majority (75%) felt that it was not a big deal or they didn’t think anything would come out of it.
Findings which point to a victim-blaming belief can affect the ways in which a student perceives the perpetrator’s actions as sexual harassment, if s/he will report and how peers respond to the individual’s experiences. This could also reflect some of the students’ beliefs that the event was not a big deal or that nothing will change. Realizing the high rates of sexual harassment and that the majority of high school students over 16 are employed in some capacity, it is even more concerning.
CWEALF has already begun taking action by following through with our recommendations. Contracting with a local nonprofit in Hartford, students are developing outreach audio messages to be played on the radio and on school systems. Additionally, we are recommending additional training within the required workplace safety training, so that teachers and students will have more information on sexual harassment. CWEALF is also offering its I&R services for students to call for assistance with sexual harassment in the workplace experiences. These measures should help facilitate training and sensitivity to the issue while informing students of their rights. Our hope is that these efforts will reduce the barriers associated with asking for help, empowering students to be able to advocate for themselves, and for teachers and supervisors to create a supportive culture which protects all employees.
Photo by UNDP in Europe and Central Asia, “Youth led solutions for youth problems in Montenegro.” Retrieved on May 12, 2014. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the HTPPI faith study.