Wednesday, March 04, 2009

As a Parent (and as a High School Sunday School Teacher), This Horrifies Me

Yesterday, I came across this article about teens, and particularly teen girls, being sexually harassed on the job. The sorts of workplaces that employ teenagers also tend to be the sorts of workplaces that aren't equipped to deal properly with sexual harassment:

Most often, teens work at low-wage restaurant, retail, or service jobs, where they're likely to be supervised by transient managers who are themselves low-skilled, inadequately trained, and poorly paid. Their bosses too often ignore sexually tinged behavior, dismissing it as harmless flirtation and not recognizing that predators are unlikely to back off. Indeed, psychologists say that the men are often seeing how much they can get away with, pushing further each time.

Moreover, young people aren't always aware of their rights and often don't know what to do when a boss or co-worker makes an unwanted sexual advance:

Federal sexual harassment law allows all employees to file a complaint, but it doesn't make any special allowances for teenagers. A lawsuit is likely to be stronger if a victim has complained—If not to the harasser, then to her supervisor or to Human Resources or another designated person. But most teenagers won't do that. "They're used to doing what Mom and Dad say, what their teachers say, what their coaches say," explains Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor and former employment attorney. "Yet the legal system expects these girls to confront their first workplace authority figure and say, 'That's completely inappropriate conduct on your part.'"

There are a couple reasons this horrifies me:

First, and most significantly, after doing a little research on the subject, it seems that, of the few workplace sexual harassment situations involving teens that are actually reported and dealt with legally, many end in settlements and no admission of guilt on the part of the employer. I suppose it's nice that the victim gets several hundred thousand dollars for her trouble, and I suppose that employers that have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement money will take sexual harassment more seriously, but I worry about any legal arrangement in which there is no admission of wrongdoing or acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problem. (Sexual harassment awareness training, in many workplaces, is dismissed as a joke or a necessary evil. I think that this is largely the fault of the cheesy training videos.)

Second, I find myself becoming the type of parent who is afraid to let his children go out into the world. I had told myself that I would not be an overprotective parent, that I would not shelter my kids, that I would allow them fully to experience life's goods and bads. But when I think about specific situations they might face, I get nervous.


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