Abuse In the Field Is Far Too Common Among Female Scientists

by Isabel Staccuneddu

Imagine earning the opportunity to go out into the field and explore the world, as a budding young scientist, only to be greeted by predatory superiors. 

In a PLOS ONE survey of mostly archaeologists and anthropologists, 64% of field scientists reported having experienced sexual harassment and 22% reported sexual assault in the field.  The academic article also noted that “73% percent of female [medical trainees] had experienced workplace sexual harassment during their residency,” meaning that this problem is not unique to scientists working in the field. 

These sobering numbers are by no means a comprehensive look at sexual abuse among field researchers. The survey questioned a mere 666 scientists, barely scratching the surface of violations of personal autonomy. Not violations of codes of conduct or policies specifically mentioning sexual harassment, though. Evidently, less than half of all respondents had such policies for their sites. 

The all too common theme of young women being preyed upon by older men was found to be a strong factor in the high rates of harassment among female field scientists in the survey. The harassment rates were concentrated among female students and postdocs whose male superiors thought they had the right to invade the women’s personal spaces.

Female involvement in the sciences is a necessity to unlocking the potential of all people, not just men with access to higher education. A diverse workplace fosters the “innovation, creativity, and team performance and productivity” required for true scientific advances. Hopefully, this survey will be taken by the academic community as a wake-up call. Perhaps the retention rate of female scientists would be higher if they actually felt safe working in their field of study.

Images: scienceprogress.orgbristol.ihollaback.org plosone.org, stopstreetharassment.org

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