Initial Publication Date: February 16, 2018

Sexual Harassment/Assault

The U.S. EEOC website on Facts About Sexual Harassment states that "Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government".

Read the latest report, Sexual Harassment of Women, Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine--prepared by the National Academy of Science Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (CWSEM); the report was developed with testimony from numerous public hearings, this website has numerous supporting resources, and you can download the report for free. Key recommendations include: 1) Address the most common form of sexual harassment: gender harassment. 2) Address the most common form of sexual harassment: gender harassment. 3) Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments. 4) Improve transparency and accountability. 5) Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty. 6) Provide support for the target. 7) Strive for strong and diverse leadership. See also the follow on event: Together We Can Do Better: A Convening of Leaders of Academia to Prevent Sexual Harassment

The Scope of the Problem

Impacts: They Are Real, Destructive, and Often Irreparable

Support for Targets of Harassment

  • Know your IX--advice and resources on Supporting a Survivor the Basics; Supporting a Survivor of Dating Violence; Tips for Parents, Guardians and Family Members; Tips for Friends; Tips for Teachers and Professors.
  • Know Your IX-Friends and Family--tips for family, friends, professors ....

Institutional Actions

  • NOT ALONE The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault--2014; "Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities. And that's why we're here today--because we have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice. President Barack Obama, January 22, 2014."
  • National Science Foundation Important Notice 144 Harassment--"The National Science Foundation (NSF) does not tolerate sexual harassment, or any kind of harassment, within the agency, at grantee organizations, field sites, or anywhere NSF-funded science and education are conducted. The 2,000 American colleges, universities and other institutions that receive NSF funds are responsible for fully investigating complaints and for complying with federal non-discrimination law." Find other NSF resources on Sexual Harassment. See also the related article US Science Agency Will Require Universities to Report Sexual Harassment--Alexandra Witze, Nature News, February 8, 2018.
  • The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine convened a workshop to address Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia on March 28, 2017. See the article in April 7, 2017 EOS that reports on this issue: Tackling Sexual Harassment in Science: A Long Road Ahead. The Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) convened a series of 5 workshops and will issue a report at the end of this study.
  • National Institutes of Health Anti-Sexual Harassment Website
  • AAAS Issues Fellow Revocation Policy on Misconduct--from Inside Higher Education, September 17, 2018. View the AAAS Revocation Policy
  • Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace--2016 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Tackling the Childcare-Conference Conundrum--Colleen Flaherty, from Inside Higher Education, posted March 14, 2018; "Primary caretakers of dependent children "face inequitable hurdles to fully attending and participating in conference activities because of responsibilities related to pregnancy, breastfeeding and caretaking," the article says. "It's a serious problem because it creates a culture of inequity for parents, with mothers generally experiencing greater disadvantages than fathers because of biological, prejudicial, and often socially driven childcare demands." See the Opinion Piece in PNAS Opinion--How to tackle the childcare-conference conundrum--Rebecca M. Calisi and a Working Group of Mothers in Science, PNAS 2018; published ahead of print March 5, 2018, .
  • A model program for institutional change Athena Swan program–from the UK's Equality Challenge Unit for advancing equality and diversity in colleges and universities; includes a wealth of resources on promoting good relations, and tackling sexual harassment and violence. "ECU's equality charters enable organisations to apply for an award recognising their commitment to, and progress on, equality and diversity.
  • In the United States, a similar program is being developed by AAAS/AGU in the STEM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change Awards (Acrobat (PDF) 305kB Feb15 18); and see related article UK Gender-Equity Scheme spreads across the world (Acrobat (PDF) 261kB Feb15 18)--Elizabeth Gibney, Nature, Vol. 549, p. 143-144, posted 14 September 2017.
  • Should institutions explicitly address "Rape Culture" in their sexual misconduct policies? Read this article from Inside Higher Education (posted November 7, 2016)
  • Whom Does Secrecy Protect?--article from Inside Higher Education. "Colleges don't tell students that professors are being investigated -- or even had been found guilty of -- harassment. Berkeley grad students demand change in this practice."
  • Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Science, Engineering, and Medical Workplaces A Scoping Workshop Summary--National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) Workshop 2016.
  • Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond (9 September, 2016 Workshop) convened by AAAS, NSF, AGU, ACS, AWG.
  • Burden of Proof in the Balance--Jake New, December 16, 2016 from Inside Higher Education; "If Trump administration changes the rules on colleges' obligations in adjudicating sex assault charges, will institutions change their policies?"
  • Complaints of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination are addressed by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. In the 2016 OCR report Securing Equal Educational Opportunity, a record 16,720 complaints were filed in the past year according to an article in Inside Higher Education. A companion article, Campus Sexual Assault in a Trump Era (November 10, 2016, Inside Higher Education) reports: "President-elect Trump has offered few details on how his administration might deal with campus sexual assault, but his surrogates and other Republicans say they would scale back enforcement of Title IX". And Burden of Proof in the Balance--from Inside Higher Education, Jake New, December 16, 2016; "If Trump administration changes the rules on colleges' obligations in adjudicating sex assault charges, will institutions change their policies?"
  • House Committee Requests GAO Report on Seual Harassment by Federallhy Funded Researchers--Colleen Flaherty, from Inside Higher Education, posted January 19, 2018; "Leaders of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee from both parties on Thursday asked the Government Accountability Office to report on sexual harassment by federally funded researchers -- including how many harassment cases are pending before federal agencies and how many have been investigated and resolved since 2013."
  • What is UW-Madison Doing to Identify and Address Sexual Misconduct by Faculty and Staff?--Posted January 31, 2018, Chancellor Blank. And see related article New UW-Madison website to help faculty, staff cope with workplace bullying==Pat Schneider, The Cap times, posted January 29, 2018. Visit the UW-M website on Hostile and Intimidating Behavior--contains information on principles, policies, campus resources, and methods to address and prevent hostile and intimidating behavior.
  • Sex Assault Bill Unveiled--Michael Stratford, from Inside Higher Education, posted July 31, 2014. "Bipartisan Senate bill would stiffen penalties on colleges and require campus climate surveys. College lobbyists are skeptical of much of the legislation."
  • Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey--Penn State Student Affairs Research and Assessment. A good example of an institution "taking the pulse" of students' campus experience as related to sexual misconduct. Results are available on line. See the 2015 Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey Instrument. Is this an exercise that would be useful at your department or institution?
  • Zero Tolerance. Period--Bernard Wood, Science, vol 350 issue 6260, pp. 487; posted 30 October 2015.

Professional Societies Respond

Policies, Procedures and Guidance

    The U.S. EEOC provides Policy Guidelines for cases of sexual harassment regarding Title VII related to:

  • determining whether sexual conduct is "unwelcome";
  • evaluating evidence of harassment;
  • determining whether a work environment is sexually "hostile";
  • holding employers liable for sexual harassment by supervisors; and
  • evaluating preventive and remedial action taken in response to claims of sexual harassment.
  • Similar policies are in place in France: Scientific Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Harassment (Acrobat (PDF) 72kB Jan8 17)

Balancing Rights: Confidentiality, Due Process, and the Need to Act


Case Studies--In the News

Sexual Harassment in the Field

Be Proactive, Have A Plan in Place

Now is the time to start the conversation and How to stop the sexual harassment of women in science: reboot the system (posted by Dr Zuleyka Zevallos on The Conversation, January 28,2016)

  • Speak up!
  • Lead by example.
  • Make it easier to report abuse and harassment.
  • Make sure the policies work.
  • Make safety a day-to-day priority.
  • Strategic planning. "Given that surveys find sexual harassment is a common experience, a strategic vision for a healthy, successful science organization needs to formulate clear targets and key performance indicators that directly address the elimination of harassment, gender bias, racial discrimination, and other forms of abuse
  • Take a collective stand against harassment.
Other valuable resources include:
  • Harassment and Workplace Climate: Policies and Strategies to Impact Cultural Change in the Geosciences--AGU/AGI Heads and Chairs webinar by Billy Williams, AGU V.P. for Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion. See webinar at YouTube.
  • Steps for Building a No-Tolerance Culture for Sexual Harassment, Marín-Spiotta, E., B. Schneider, and M.A. Holmes (2016), Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO044859. Published on 28 January 2016
  • Preventing Sexual Violence on College Campuses: Lessons from Research and Practice--prepared for the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, April, 2014.
  • This is a Field Guide for Responding to sexual harassment or sexual violence developed for UC-Irvine Field Stations; includes resources available and procedures. (A good model for other programs to develop for their own situations).
  • Fed Up With Harassment: The Serial Harasser's Playbook--posted by John Johnson, May 14, 2014 on Women in Astronomy. Know the danger signs, be prepared to act!
  • Fed Up With Sexual Harassment: Survival of the Clueless--posted by Joan Schmelz, March 13, 2014, in Women in Astronomy.
  • Advice: Dealing with Discrimination and Sexual Harassment--Joan Schmelz, posted May 21, 2013, in Women in Astronomy.
  • Senior Scientists Must Engage in the fight Against Sexual Harassment--Diniega, S., J. Tan, M. S. Tiscareno, and E. Wehner (2016), Senior scientists must engage in the fight against harassment, Eos, 97, Published on 08 September 2016.
  • A series of articles from Inside Higher Education
    • Addressing Sexual Violence in Science--Maggie Hardy, April 14, 2017; "Learning to navigate safe relationships and thinking critically about sexual experiences is a hallmark of the college period."
    • Responding to Students' Trauma Disclosures With Empathy--Marina Rosenthal, April 7, 2017; "...describes three actions she takes when she is feeling bewildered, despondent or incapacitated by a student's disclosure of sexual violence."
    • Talk With Students About Sexual Assault--Shawn Patrick, April 7, 2017; "When we as professors have the courage to address sexual assault openly, we create trust and show students how to take a different stance toward violence."
    • Sexual Harassment in Research Abroad--Kathrin Zippel, March 31, 2017; "Navigating an unfamiliar environment can amplify the challenges of developing strategies to avoid harassment."
    • The Silencing of Sexual Violence Survivors--Sheila Liming, March 24, 2017; "Nondisclosure agreements in sexual assault cases are pervasive and pernicious, especially where student complaints against faculty or staff members are concerned."
    • Teaching ABout Sexuality, Violence and Power--Jamie L. Small, March 17, 2017; "When the alleged perpetrator is a person with whom we feel some sort of affiliation or reverence, we start to make excuses and bend over backward to deny the plausibility of the victim's experience."
    • Teaching Rape Culture--Cat Pause March 10, 2017; "Helping students become familiar with the concept of rape culture provides an opportunity for them to recognize their own values and beliefs in action."
    • Amplifying the Voices of Sexual Violence Survivors--Eric Anthony Grollman, March 3, 2017, "It is more important than ever that we in higher education work to make space for survivors to tell their stories."
    • The Unexpected Effects of a Sexual Harassment Educational Program--Shereen G. Bingham and Lisa L. Scherer, THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, Vol. 37 No. 2, June 2001 125-153. Sexual harassment programs must be done correctly to avoid adverse consequences: "(Male) program participation and employee gender interacted, indicating an adverse reaction to the program among male participants. Male participants were less likely than other groups to perceive coercive sexual harassment, less willing to report sexual harassment, and more likely to blame the victim."
  • How to Get More Women to Report Sexual Harassment--Gretchen Carlson, New York Times Op-Ed, posted October 10, 2017. "Three factors that contribute to employees' reluctance to speak up when they witness sexual harassment: fear of retaliation; the "bystander effect" (we're less likely to come to the aid of victims when others are present); and a masculine culture that sees sexual harassment as acceptable....four solutions: Make employees aware of the problem so they know what they're seeing; tell employees they are responsible for stepping in and helping; increase employee accountability; and teach employees how to intervene. Policies and training that codify these solutions will go a long way, and don't require congressional action. Companies can also encourage action by appointing an independent ombudsman, or authorizing people across the organization to hear complaints."