A pretty important paper came out last week from the University of Illinois on a topic that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard discussed before – the prevalence of sexual harassment during scientific field studies.
It stands to reason that there should be decent amount of this going on. Field work is something that most fields require – from collecting skin samples from frogs in the wild to setting up camp by a new excavation site – and pretty much every field is dominated by men. Take further into account that most people in positions of power in academia are also men, and you have a situation ripe for unwanted sexual advances.
On the other hand, you’d hope that highly educated people trying to train the next generation of scientists would be able to keep their hands out of their pants during excursions.
The survey asked 666 respondents – most of whom were female – about their experiences in the field. The questions used standard sexual harassment and assault terminology, asking generalized questions and operational definitions without specifically using the words harassment or assault to avoid making respondents name their experiences. And unfortunately, as one might expect, the results were pretty damning.
A majority- 64 percent of the respondents – said that they had experienced sexual harassment, with more than 20 percent reporting sexual assault. What’s more, a vast majority of those incidents occurred while they were trainees and were perpetrated by those in power. More than 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men were trainees or employees, and women were 3.5 times more likely to have been harassed than men. And roughly half of all incidents reported by women were perpetrated by their superiors.
What’s more, it seems like there isn’t much help on the way. Very few people reported ever having sexual harassment guidelines or reporting mechanisms presented to them, and most everyone who reported their incidents were happy with the outcome.
I guess I would hope that such behaviors and practices would be sparse among those who are supposedly educated, but I guess even the best of society has a long way to go. But this study is a good start – it begins by admitting there’s a problem, right?
The paper, “Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assault,” was published in PLOS ONE by University of Illinois anthropology professor kate Clancy.