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26 March 2004
Young Men Increasingly Victims of Sexual Harassment
by George Atkinson

Sexual harassment is not just an issue for women. Research by Christopher Uggen from the University of Minnesota, published in the American Sociological Review, describes workplace conditions for men and women who might be vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Based on surveys and interviews with 700 men and women, Uggen and co-author Amy Blackstone, examined the current state of sexual harassment. They found that more than ever, sexual harassment victims include men and adolescents as well as women.

"All women are at some risk of sexual harassment, but males are also likely to be targeted if they seem vulnerable and appear to reject the male stereotype," says Uggen. "If a man refuses to go along with sexual joking, wears an earring to the workplace, or is financially vulnerable, he could be targeted. We even found a correlation between a man's likelihood of being harassed and the amount of housework they reported doing an activity typically attributed to women."

In the past, sexual harassment has been studied as something men do to women. The Uggen and Blackstone study took a new approach. They developed measures and questions that allowed them to measure same-sex harassment, male victims, as well as male-to-female harassment.

What they discovered is that aggressors tend to be men who are flaunting their heterosexual masculinity over all forms of femininity. Victims were not just women but also men who had challenged the stereotypical male ideals.

A surprising development, according to Uggen, centers on adolescents and their workplace experience. Despite the very corporate and adult image of harassment portrayed in movies such as Disclosure, the study found that adolescents do experience sexual harassment which is typically underreported and misunderstood. They found that one of every three women and one of every seven men that took part in their study reported they were sexually harassed by their mid-twenties. Yet, those men and women had never told anyone about their experience prior to the study.

"We gave young adults and adolescents surveys questioning them about sexual harassment and we asked them if they'd ever experienced it in the workplace," Uggen said. "In the survey, several of them reported that they had experienced harassment. When we followed up with interviews, it was remarkable to hear that so many more did not realize certain behaviors such as consistent and unwanted flirting or inappropriate jokes could be considered harassment. To these adolescents and to many men we interviewed it was something they shrugged off."

Uggen encourages adolescents to report these occurrences and identify it early. "When these adolescents remain quiet, they risk experiencing greater levels of harassment as they enter adulthood," Uggen said.




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