Survey Finds That Sexual Harassment and Assault Are Common on Scientific Field Studies

Research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropology this past spring showed that many students, particularly women, are psychologically, physically, and sexually abused while conducting field work in remote locations.

Now a follow-up study published in the journal PLOS One presents evidence that the same abuse occurs in field research in other fields including geology, archeology, and other scientific endeavors. Of the nearly 700 field workers surveyed, a vast majority of whom are women, 64 percent said they had been exposed to inappropriate sexual remarks, comments about their physical appearance, or jokes about gender differences. Some 20 percent of the field workers surveyed reported that they had victims of sexual assault while conducting field research.

Kathryn B.H. Clancy, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and one of the four authors of the study, stated, “Our main findings – that women trainees were disproportionately targeted for abuse and felt they had few avenues to report or resolve these problems – suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive. We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.”

Dr. Clancy added: “Fieldwork is often what stirs the first interest in science in a young person, and research has shown that scientists who do more fieldwork write more papers and get more grants. We have to pay attention to how people are treated there.”

Dr. Clancy is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale University. Joining Dr. Clancy as authors of the research are Julienne Rutherford of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Robin Nelson of the University of California at Riverside, and Katie Hind of Harvard University. All are tenure-track faculty members in the field of biological anthropology.

The article, “Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault,” is available here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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