Youth at work: adolescent employment and sexual harassment

Susan Fineran, James E Gruber
Child Abuse & Neglect 2009, 33 (8): 550-9

OBJECTIVE: An examination of the frequency and impact of workplace sexual harassment on work, health, and school outcomes on high school girls is presented in two parts. The first compares the frequency of harassment in this sample (52%) to published research on adult women that used the same measure of sexual harassment. The second part compares outcomes for girls who experienced harassment versus those who did not.

METHODS: Students in a small, suburban high school for girls completed a paper and pencil survey during class. A modified version of the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ: Fitzgerald et al., 1988) was used to identify sexually harassed working teenagers. Work attitudes, assessments of physical health and mental health, and school-related outcomes were measured using standardized scales. Data were analyzed using difference of proportions tests, t-tests, and regression.

RESULTS: The percentage of harassed girls was significantly higher than the figures reported in most studies of working women. Girls who were sexually harassed were less satisfied with their jobs and supervisors, had higher levels of academic withdrawal, and were more apt to miss school than their non-harassed peers.

CONCLUSIONS: Sexual harassment significantly impacts employed high school girls' connections to work and school. It not only taints their attitudes toward work but it also threatens to undermine their commitment to school. Educators, practitioners and community leaders should be aware of the negative impact this work experience may have on adolescents and explore these issues carefully with students who are employed outside of school.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Teenage students, stressed by sexual harassment experienced at work may find their career development or career potential impeded or threatened due to school absence and poor academic performance. In addition, the physical safety of working students may be at risk, creating a need for teenagers to receive training to deal with sexual assault and other types of workplace violence. Educators, practitioners, and community leaders should be aware of the negative impact this work experience may have on adolescents and their overall school experience and explore the issue of sexual harassment carefully with students who are employed outside of school.

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