When you're a teenage worker and you're sexually harassed

Culture changes amid harassment tipping point?
Culture changes amid harassment tipping point?

Women have shared #MeToo stories about their good jobs, their bad jobs and their part-time jobs. But when we talk about harassment on first jobs, we're often talking about harassment of teenagers -- women whose first experiences with sexual harassment happened when they were still in high school.

There's been increasing focus on what workplaces can do to educate workers on the reporting process.

But for many teenage workers, it's difficult to even identify and label harassing behavior.

Related: Talking about #MeToo with our mothers

A 2011 survey from the American Association of University Women found that more than 50% of high school girls reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment throughout a single school year.

"Some researchers claim that sexual harassment is so common for girls that many fail to recognize it as sexual harassment when it happens," according to the report.

Louise was 19 when she worked her first summer retail job. Her manager scheduled her shifts alongside his so that every night they'd close the store together -- alone.

"Usually during times like that he would start asking me about my dating life," she says. "I had a boyfriend at the time and he'd try to ask me questions about my sex life. He was in his late 20s, married with a child on the way. He would ask me, 'If I wasn't married, would you date me?'"

At the time, Louise says she was "aware of the concept" of sexual harassment, but didn't think of it at as something she'd ever experience.

Until one day at the store, when he pinned her hand behind the counter as she was talking to a customer.

"He came up behind me so that his crotch was up against my hand ... I felt like I couldn't pull away," she says. "That was my first thought: 'I don't want the customer to notice this.'"

Related: The decision to name or not name a sexual harasser

There are several ways that early harassment follows women later in life -- from their high school jobs all the way up the corporate ladder, according to Amy Blackstone, professor of sociology at the University of Maine.

"It's in the high school jobs that people learn the norms of the workplace," Blackstone said.

Women she interviewed were more likely to experience financial stress, change career paths and even mistrust their colleagues because of these early harassment experiences.

Louise, now 31, says she never talked habout the incident with her parents, and she's still not confident in reporting mechanisms that supposedly help victims in the workplace.

"It doesn't seem like in most cases anybody really cares about actually doing anything about the situation," she says. "And of course they won't tell you if anyone else has ever complained, so you have no way to know -- are you going to be the third person or are you going to be the first person?"

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