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Christopher Uggen

Associate professor Christopher Uggen, Department of Sociology

Equal opportunity sexual harassment

men and adolescents are increasingly targeted

By Jamie Proulx, University News Service

Sexual harassment is not just for adult women any more, according to University of Minnesota researcher Christopher Uggen. Using two large-scale surveys and intensive interviews, Uggen and his co-author, University of Maine professor Amy Blackstone, discovered that sexual harassment aggressors tend to be men who are flaunting their heterosexual masculinity over all forms of femininity. More than ever, victims of sexual harassment 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," reports 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 he reported doing--an activity typically attributed to women."

A surprising development, according to Uggen, centers on adolescents and their workplace experience. The study found that adolescents do experience sexual harassment, but it's grossly underreported and misunderstood. The researchers found that one of every three women and one of every seven men who took part in their study reported being sexually harassed by their mid-20s. Yet many of 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 says. "Several of them reported that they had. When we followed up with one-on-one interviews, we realized that a much larger number had experienced harassing behaviors such as consistent or unwanted flirting or inappropriate jokes, but they did not interpret it as sexual harassment. To these young people--and to many men we interviewed--it was something they shrugged off."

Uggen encourages adolescents to report unwanted sexual attention at work and identify it early. "When these adolescents remain quiet, they risk experiencing greater levels of harassment as they enter adulthood," Uggen says.

The full report by Uggen and Blackstone is available in the current issue of American Sociological Review at www.asanet.org/journals/asr.

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