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"People are being told 'what happens in the field stays in the field"
July 17, 2014 7:24 PM   Subscribe

NPR reports on a recently-published PLOS ONE article describing sexual harassment and assault perpetrated on (overwhelmingly young, female) researchers in the field.
In a survey of scientists engaged in field research, the majority — 64 percent — said they had personally experienced sexual harassment while at a field site, and 22 percent reported being the victim of sexual assault.
posted by deadbilly (40 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related?
posted by TedW at 7:37 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I wish I was surprised, but I'm glad it's coming to light.
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


oh my god, the tweet in TedW's link needs to be enshrined in some sort of museum of tone-deaf bigoted idiocy
posted by kagredon at 8:00 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


OH hey, I contributed not super pleasant data to that study. I am incredibly glad that this is being published and widely disseminated across a bunch of venues. My department chair actually sent out the original paper by Drs. Kate Clancy, Katie Hinde, and Julienne Rutherford) after it was presented at the meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. I hope this provides an impetus for conversations between advisors and advisees, or gets people to take a look at the way their field schools are set up, or checks someone's "clever joke" about how distracting women's bodies are, or gives someone else the courage to report their assault!

And, as TedW noted,
So, to reiterate, in the last week, we’ve been asked to ignore the profoundly misogynistic behavior of one long-departed scientist because his contributions to the field are too important; a graduate student is suing her former university for what appears to be systematic sexual harassment by her superiors; 1 in 5 researchers in the field report being victims of sexual assault; and one of the leading scientific journals thinks is perfectly appropriate to feature a dehumanizing image of sex workers on their cover.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:05 PM on July 17 [33 favorites]


I'm glad this is getting attention. I would have guessed the real number is about 99 percent, not 64, but maybe I'm too pessimistic.

But given that I'm a man and even I had at least one not-happy incident while doing field work (and a couple more ambiguous moments), I'm going to say that at least some locations and fields should just be thought of as harassment-obligatory, and it should be talked about openly instead of hidden.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:26 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?
— Jim Austin (@SciCareerEditor) July 16, 2014


No, there are plenty of men like you who find morality really boring...
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:31 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?

Not yet, but hopefully soon.
posted by mhoye at 8:50 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I'm going to say that at least some locations and fields should just be thought of as harassment-obligatory,

On reflection, I'd add that some departments are also harassment-mandatory, though there has been more discussion of this in the last two years than in my entire time in grad school.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:55 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I've been physically grabbed and moved at a field site before because my supervisor did not like the spot that I was standing in. This wasn't to rescue me from an imminent snakebite or a falling anvil or anything - my supervisor just wanted me standing someplace else and didn't see fit to use words.

The same individual, later in the same field season, *took my hand* to cross the street.

I've never felt less respected by someone who is meant to be taking my position as a scientist seriously.
posted by pemberkins at 8:56 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


(also, not just the field. At the last conference I went to, a professor friend of my advisor's told me not to get a "titty tattoo.")
posted by ChuraChura at 9:05 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who doesn't see what's so dehumanizing about that Science cover? I know the heads are cut off the image, but that just feels like something the researchers did to protect their subjects' identities.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:08 PM on July 17


Oh, I also had a colleague who was told at a conference that she should not wear feminine clothing or the male scientists would not take her research seriously. (IIRC she had worn a dress - perfectly professional/business-like, but a dress - while giving her talk. This apparently was controversial.)
posted by pemberkins at 9:12 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


In a survey of scientists engaged in field research, the majority — 64 percent — said they had personally experienced sexual harassment while at a field site

I'd be interested to know the gender breakdown. I assume a significant percentage of them are men, since the overall percentage of scientists who are woman is presumably nowhere near 64%. (If this is specified in the article, I missed it.)

Many academic sciences have a problem retaining women. Though they enter the disciplines in high numbers, many leave before they reach the postdoctorate or professor level.

It's a sobering and disturbing thought that the sciences might be far more gender-balanced if not for sexual harassment. It's such an important point it warrants a whole study unto itself.
posted by John Cohen at 9:14 PM on July 17


Am I the only one who doesn't see what's so dehumanizing about that Science cover? I know the heads are cut off the image, but that just feels like something the researchers did to protect their subjects' identities.

I'd say it wasn't the best choice. There are other ways the magazine could have used a similar cover without showing clearly identifiable faces — put them further in the distance with some tasteful shadows. Instead, you have a "Science" cover with those bodies wearing risque clothing, very close-up. "Dehumanizing" might be an overstatement, but they should have known what they were doing would strike many people as at least "objectifying" — and they did it anyway, to sell more magazines (or to get more attention on the internet).
posted by John Cohen at 9:19 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who doesn't see what's so dehumanizing about that Science cover? I know the heads are cut off the image, but that just feels like something the researchers did to protect their subjects' identities.

The women in the photograph don't appear to be part of any study in the actual issue, and even if they were, it's hard to think what kind of scientific purpose such a picture would serve.

Actually, as near as I can tell, none of the articles in the issue focus primarily on trans women or sex workers as at-risk populations. The "cover story" that the picture is supposedly representing (according to the explanation of the cover on Science's website) is primarily about the success of needle exchanges in Australia; the picture is of sex workers in Indonesia. There is an interview with the Indonesian minister of health which mentions sex workers and "transgenders" (uh) as high-risk populations in the introduction, but the interview is primarily focused on her implementation of condom distribution and needle exchanges.

So, you know, if you want a "edgy" picture about the material, why not a needle? Or a basket of government-issue condoms? Or, hell, there's a whole article in there about circumcision as an intervention, why isn't there a penis on the cover? There are a lot of choices they could've made that would've better represented the material, and so the choice they made is pretty telling.
posted by kagredon at 9:24 PM on July 17 [23 favorites]


I'd be interested to know the gender breakdown.

The TedW link from churachura says it was 71 percent of women.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:24 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


And the PLOS ONE link in the FPP has all kinds of gender breakdowns.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:28 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?

I wonder how exciting he'd like us to make it for him.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:32 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Well, I guess that is a kind of weird and misleading choice for a cover if they're not part of any study in the journal. I had assumed they were, because I thought that's usually how journal covers work (in my experience they're typically farmed out to the authors of prominent papers within that particular episode).
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:34 PM on July 17


From the PLOS article:

Conventional wisdom often attributes the majority of sexual misconduct to locals and cultural differences, an important consideration for, for instance, the international business workplace [15]. Incidents perpetrated by locals certainly exist and are traumatic [31], [32], but represented a small minority of cases in our survey.

(Numbers and percentages are in figure two, but in short it's severely weighted towards colleagues, with comparatively few reported issues from local people.)

That jumped out at me because the only safety oversight and discussions my (prestigious and well-funded) school offered were exclusively about local risk, sort of like those State Department warnings, when it appears the problems are almost entirely internal to the institution. Fascinating.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:40 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Having read the links my only concern would be selection bias among the respondents. The authors themselves acknowledge this issue in the "Study Limitations" section
The sample was potentially biased by ethical, pre-participation disclosure that questions regarding these topics were in the survey. Some people may have been more likely to participate in the survey if they had negative experiences, some people may have been more likely to forward the survey link to individuals who had previously disclosed negative experiences in private conversation (snowball sampling), and some people may have been less inclined to participate in this survey to avoid emotional stress of sharing their experiences. Several colleagues directly informed the study authors that they would not participate because revisiting their experiences was too traumatic. Thus, it is unclear if the self-selection of this sample produces over- or under-reporting of negative field experiences.
So it's hard to say whether this study accurately reports the numbers, underreports them, or overreports them. Obviously the results are really disturbing and deserve a lot more study.
posted by Justinian at 9:52 PM on July 17


I'd be interested to know the gender breakdown.

The TedW link from churachura says it was 71 percent of women.

And the PLOS ONE link in the FPP has all kinds of gender breakdowns.


Thanks, and that's an important fact, but I actually meant I'd be interested to know what percent of those who were harassed were men/women. As you said, the PLOS ONE article has the gender breakdowns:
Gender was a significant predictor of having personally experienced sexual harassment, with women respondents 3.5 times more likely to report having experienced sexual harassment than men (70% of women (N = 361/512) and 40% of men (N = 56/138), X2 = 40.8, p = 0.0001, df = 1, OR = 3.5, N = 650). Women were significantly more likely to have experienced sexual assault: 26% of women (N = 131/504) vs. 6% of men (N = 8/133) in our sample (X2 = 30.3, p = 0.0001, df = 1, OR = 5.5, N = 637).
As expected, women are more likely to have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, but it's worth noting that men are also victims in significant numbers.
posted by John Cohen at 10:05 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


That may well be true but I'm concerned the methodology biases the male sample in particular towards people who will answer yes. It's a self-selecting sample.
posted by Justinian at 10:11 PM on July 17


Thanks, and that's an important fact, but I actually meant I'd be interested to know what percent of those who were harassed were men/women.

This information can be fairly easily extrapolated from the section you quoted and the 64% you cited in your earlier comment. I would do it right now if my phone weren't about to die.
posted by kagredon at 10:42 PM on July 17


I just saw this Tumblr post earlier today, from a staffer out of the Field Museum doing video reports from an environmentally challenging dig location. And what do some of the comment focus on? Slightly visible décolletage, because it was hot. (I know this is reporting from the field, and not from her colleagues, but I feel like it overlaps with the general pattern of sexism in the field.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:03 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I would add that the raw / absolute number of surveys reporting harassment/ assault is very concerning, no matter the actual prevalence.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:49 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


And for female victims, the perpetrator was more likely to be a superior, not a peer. "This is happening to them when they are trainees, when they are most vulnerable within the academic hierarchy,"

Ugh. Its rare that I read something and think "why are we trying to use science to prolong the lives of old people?"
posted by hal_c_on at 2:17 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I just saw this Tumblr post earlier today, from a staffer out of the Field Museum doing video reports from an environmentally challenging dig location. And what do some of the comment focus on? Slightly visible décolletage, because it was hot. (I know this is reporting from the field, and not from her colleagues, but I feel like it overlaps with the general pattern of sexism in the field.)

Previously on MeFi.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:17 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


You can add me to the list of people who felt too uncomfortable to answer the survey. I started filling it out and then got really bothered by my answers and shut down the page without finishing. I actually had mostly great experiences in the field but there were a couple events that I just don't want to examine too closely.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:49 AM on July 18 [15 favorites]


Jetlagaddict, while I was working on a project in the desert, I wore gym shorts and a tank top with a white long sleeved men's shirt over the tank top... And had the professor in charge call me aside and tell me my clothing was distracting, did I have anything more appropriate?
posted by ChuraChura at 5:36 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:05 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


And had the professor in charge call me aside and tell me my clothing was distracting, did I have anything more appropriate?

It's such background noise that I honestly hadn't thought about it until reading your comment right now, but one of the implications of being the kind of white guy that all of the older male professors could relate to ("He's just like us!") is that for every one time one of them says something like that to you, they say it 900 times to each other or someone like me. That kind of policing/appreciating (for the gross sense of "appreciating," obviously) is constant, it is just much less frequently said directly.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:38 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


tank top with a white long sleeved men's shirt over the tank top

What's even more ridiculous about being pulled aside for this, is that ensemble would describe what 99% of my female archaeologist friends would wear in the field 99% of the time. Since no manufacturer of women's clothing has apparently deigned to design a tank top that doesn't ride up your back when hunched over (i.e., Archaeologist Yoga), an overshirt is essential unless you want to come home with a sunburned lower back. Plus, that's actually more "modest" than just wearing a tank top, so I'm baffled at how that conversation must have gone (though sadly not surprised it happened).

PROF: Your functional and modest clothing is too distracting, I'm going to need you to change that.

CC: That makes no sense.

PROF: I HAVE MEN'S SHIRT FETISH!
posted by Panjandrum at 7:06 AM on July 18


I've definitely heard stories about professors that like to collect samples in the nude with their female grad students around, professors that have reputations for only hiring hot female undergrads, professors that profess their attraction to their female graduate students, and promptly shun them once they get engaged.

Again, those are stories, but when it's your word as a student vs your word as a faculty member, who do you think is going to win, and who do you think is going to lose?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:21 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


This saddens me.

I wonder if this is more or less prevalent among the harder sciences than the 'softer' sciences. I also wonder if this is more or less prevalent among fields with more women faculty members.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:49 AM on July 18


And the worst part of those stories, as a student, is that no one tells you until it's too late. I considered going to this one guy's lab but things didn't work out. I mentioned it in passing to my actual supervisor and he was like 'Oh, you would have fit in perfectly! He was known for his attractive young female grad students'. Which was icky in several different ways. But, had I been hired by the original guy, I would have been tainted as one of his 'girls', even though I picked him based on his science and had no idea of his reputation. I should say, I haven't heard anything bad about his behaviour, just that he likes to hire attractive female students enough that a lot of people noticed.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:50 AM on July 18 [14 favorites]


Oh jesus I am so glad that someone is looking at fighting this problem with science. As a field technician, I was regularly ridiculed for being "The Girl", even though I did the same work as everyone else. As a master's student, a prospective PhD advisor drunkenly hit on my friend at a conference told me not to worry about fieldwork in Ecuador close to the border with Colombia because, as he said, "I don't think FARC guerillas rape their victims." I chose a different program, but later a female student from his department said her advisor has to make sure she's never alone with the guy. Because calling out a well-known academic for their creepy asshole behavior is never going to happen.

Then as a PhD student, a colleague of mine was raped and murdered in the field while doing her research. I was storing her valuables in my house while she was away. I tried to continue my work, but ultimately I couldn't take any more victim blaming or people lamenting about how sad it was because she was so pretty. I wasn't sleeping or eating and my work turned to shit. I left the field and concentrated on a lab-based study. My advisor told me I had made a mistake and that he didn't think I was in any danger.

As a post-doc, another colleague of mine was raped in the field by her technician. Afterwards, the head of the institute where she works declined to even re-install the security cameras that had recently been removed. This, after being told about the incident and how the perpetrator only paused when she mentioned the possibility that they were being filmed. She went to a rape crisis center where she was frankly told that without any actual wounds, it was unlikely that her rapist would be convicted. When I brought this up with someone I know who works at a women's shelter, she said that even if a women is injured, the rapist will usually claim that the sex was consensual and that he beat her up afterwards. This typically earns him a 30 day sentence, 29 suspended.

This shit is beyond fucked up, and I am so glad that people are starting to pay attention.
posted by stinker at 8:52 AM on July 18 [21 favorites]


At this point I'm just assuming that any circumstance that takes people out of "real life" for a period of time (military deployment, field work, college campus, off-station corporate trips) is rife with this. What people will do when they think the rules are suspended and nobody will find out doesn't say much for the "people are inherently good" theory.

We like to say around here, integrity is how well you act when nobody will ever know. Seems a rare thing, when actually tested.
posted by ctmf at 12:02 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I'm almost certain someone here posted a story about working with a geologist who would occasionally just get naked in the field. But it wasn't framed as sexual harassment, just weirdness. Still, you have to wonder.
posted by emjaybee at 12:51 PM on July 18


I'm almost certain someone here posted a story about working with a geologist who would occasionally just get naked in the field.
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 7:24 PM on July 18


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