Researchers Document Why Sexual Harassment Is Rampant in Anthropological Field Work

Research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropology showed that many students, particularly women, are psychologically, physically, and sexually abused while conducting field work in remote locations. The survey found that more than half of respondents said they had witnessed sexual harassment, physical abuse, or sexual assault while in the field. Some 19 percent reported that they had been sexually assaulted.

In a followup study, the researchers interviewed survey respondents to gain a deeper understanding of the problem. The study was conducted by Kate Clancy of the University of Illinois, Julienne Rutherford of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Robin Nelson of Santa Clara University, and Katie Hind of Arizona State University. All are tenure-track faculty members in the field of biological anthropology.

The new study found that field site directors who failed to establish clear ground rules for the behavior of their team also were more likely to tolerate, ignore – or in some cases, engage in and encourage – the physical and/or sexual harassment of some members of their team.

“Many of the scientists we interviewed revealed a real lack of clarity in what constituted appropriate professional conduct, because the field site would have no rules or the rules wouldn’t be enforced, or the director himself or herself would be a perpetrator of psychological abuse or sexual violence,” Dr. Clancy said.

“Some of the targets of these actions said they felt vulnerable, powerless, isolated or ‘like prey.’ In the fieldwork setting, there’s often nowhere to go to avoid your harasser,” Dr. Rutherford said.

The new study, “Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories,” was published on the website of the journal American Anthropologist. It may be accessed here.

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