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Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers

Adolescent Development, Discrimination, and Consent Law

When we consider the concept of sexual abuse and harassment, our minds tend to jump either towards adults caught in unhealthy relationships or criminals who take advantage of children. But the millions of maturing teenagers who also deal with sexual harassment can fall between the cracks.
When it comes to sexual relationships, adolescents pose a particular problem. Few teenagers possess all of the emotional and intellectual tools needed to navigate these threats, including the all too real advances made by supervisors, teachers, and mentors. In Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers, Jennifer Drobac explores the shockingly common problem of maturing adolescents who are harassed and exploited by adults in their lives. Reviewing the neuroscience and psychosocial evidence of adolescent development, she explains why teens are so vulnerable to adult harassers. Even today, in an age of increasing public awareness, criminal and civil law regarding the sexual abuse of minors remains tragically inept and irregular from state to state. Drobac uses six recent cases of teens suffering sexual harassment to illuminate the flaws and contradictions of this system, skillfully showing how our current laws fail to protect youths, and offering an array of imaginative legal reforms that could achieve increased justice for adolescent victims of sexual coercion. 

352 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Sociology: Criminology, Delinquency, Social Control


"Teenagers may be worldly but are not experienced in the ways of the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in dealing with sexuality, especially the challenges posed by the sexual exploitation of teenagers. Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers is something of a guide for those who advise these teenagers and help steer them through problems they may encounter or, better yet, help reduce such encounters. The first and perhaps biggest problem is that the law is muddled and does not deal satisfactorily with the sexual exploitation of teenagers. A second problem is that well-meaning advisers are often confused. The book is a response to these problems. It is concrete—Drobac reviews findings from neuroscience and psychology to explain why teenagers are so vulnerable to sexual predators. She presents case studies illustrating various forms of exploitation and then merges the scientific findings with the case studies to provide thoughtful, useful advice on how to reconstruct the law and how to advise this vulnerable population. This book could usefully be in the library of every high school counselor and profitably read by parents and others entrusted with the care of kids."


"In a fair, simple, and clearly well-researched manner, Drobac summarizes the key aspects of what makes adolescents who they are, how they stand in society, what makes them vulnerable in both psychological and legal contexts, and how adolescents are currently treated in the United States federal and state legal systems. Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers provides readers with passionate and strong arguments, in conjunction with contemporary, well-found research, for changing the current legal systems’ treatment of adolescents."

Journal of Youth and Adolescence

“Work on the sexual harassment of teens has tended toward educators and therapists—not lawyers and policymakers—and Drobac shines a spotlight on an area of law that has received too little attention. Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers makes a strong case that can positively impact real teenagers’ lives and will convince readers of the woeful need for reform. It is indeed an enduring contribution.”

Deborah Tuerkheimer, Northwestern University Law School

“Drobac’s Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers is deeply researched and written with passion. Much more than legal scholarship, this book is a must-read for anyone in the field who cares about protecting young women and teens.”

Drew Altman, president and CEO, Kaiser Family Foundation

“In Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers, Drobac attacks her subject with a striking combination of scholarly rigor, innovative analysis, and passion for those treated badly first by predators and then by our legal system. She grounds her account in both data and personal accounts and unpacks the social and legal failures that can deny redress to the victims of exploitation. She draws on a broad range of interdisciplinary approaches, including the insights of neuroscience and developmental psychology. This book identifies the major problems, details the inadequate responses of the law, and proposes concrete changes to improve how we hold those responsible for the predation to account. It is the complete package.”

Oliver Goodenough, Vermont Law School

“Drobac’s work is extremely original. She is one of the few legal scholars looking at adolescent brain development’s implications for sexual harassment law. Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers is an excellent contribution to the field, and it takes on an important issue that really has not been fully explored yet elsewhere.”

Theresa Beiner, University of Arkansas, Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introductions: Sara’s Case, Sexual Exploitation, and Legal Terms
Chapter 2. Adolescent Worldliness: Sexual Harassment Targeting Teenagers
Chapter 3. Adolescent Development: Wisdom Regarding Teen Capacity
Chapter 4. Legal Treatment of Worldly Adolescents and Criminal Law Treatment of Unwise Adults
Chapter 5. The Development of Civil Law’s Response to Worldly Women and Precocious Teenagers: Historical Wisdom or Oppressive Judgment?
Chapter 6. Modern Worldly Wisdom? The Theoretical Foundations of Antidiscrimination and Sexual Exploitation Law
Chapter 7. Wising Up in the Workplace: Modern Antidiscrimination Law and Its Application
Chapter 8. The Evolution of Conflicting Law in California and Perhaps Beyond
Chapter 9. Students Who “Lov’d Not Wisely but Too Well” and the Biases That Influence Adults in Judgment
Chapter 10.  Becoming Wiser: Public Policy, Developing Capacity, the Law, and Legal Assent


Appendix 1: Common Forms of Sexual Harassment
Appendix 2: Summary of State Juvenile Sex Crime Statutes


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