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Discriminating Youths UMaine sociologist looks at sexual harassment among teen workers by Kristen Andresen

Worker HarassmentEditor’s note: Full-length version of story.

Think back to your first job. You might’ve worked at an ice cream parlor or a fast-food joint. Maybe you waited tables, folded sweaters, washed cars. But chances are, no matter what you did, your professional life has changed significantly since then.

The experiences of adolescents and those in their early 20s differ sharply from those of older workers. When you’re young, certain behaviors are considered acceptable by you and your peers more than they would be at any other time of your life. You might flirt with co-workers. Date them. You’re friends. You hang out after work. Go out for drinks.

But as University of Maine sociologist Amy Blackstone and her colleagues have found, one workplace experience can happen at any age: sexual harassment.

Since 2000, Blackstone and sociologist Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota have studied how age affects workers’ perceptions of sexual harassment. They are among the first researchers to consider the experience of young workers in this way.

“These workers are vulnerable to sexual harassment, but most prior research excludes them. The dearth of research on adolescents and those in their early 20s might lead people to assume that sexual harassment isn’t a problem for young people but that would be the wrong conclusion to draw,” says Blackstone, an associate professor of sociology whose research interests include gender, social movements, work and families.

It is her hope that this entire body of research will provide greater understanding about the underlying cultural and legal issues surrounding sexual harassment and lead to better training and prevention efforts in the future.

“Sexual harassment isn’t just about some guy asking a woman he’s attracted to on a date,” Blackstone says. “It’s about overpowering someone.”

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Summer 2010

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