Re­port finds abuse in sci­ence sec­tors

Houston Chronicle - - LEGAL NOTICES - By Bradley J. Fikes

The na­tion's top body on sci­ence is­sues made it of­fi­cial this week: Sex­ual ha­rass­ment isn't just a prob­lem in Hol­ly­wood, pol­i­tics and the cor­po­rate world.

Mal­treat­ment of women is about as com­mon in sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing and medicine as in more pub­li­cized fields, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Na­tional Acad­e­mies of Sci­ence, En­gi­neer­ing and Medicine.

This not only harms the women in­volved, but also the fields they work in, by driv­ing out qual­i­fied peo­ple. The ha­rass­ment in­cludes not only open de­mands for sex with the risk of re­tal­i­a­tion for re­fusal, but other de­mean­ing treat­ment that places women at a dis­ad­van­tage to men. Le­gal reme­dies are an in­suf­fi­cient de­ter­rent, the re­port stated.

To stop this, the cli­mate and cul­ture in sci­ence, med­i­cal and en­gi­neer­ing need to be changed to pe­nal­ize ha­rassers, the re­port said. This in­cludes chang­ing fed­eral fund­ing in­cen­tives and im­pos­ing re­quire­ments that fac­ulty and lead­er­ship pledge to op­pose ha­rass­ment and sup­port di­ver­sity poli­cies.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals in these dis­ci­plines have taken place around the world.

Noted Salk In­sti­tute sci­en­tist In­der Verma has just re­signed after the in­sti­tute in­ves­ti­gated charges against him that in­cluded sex­ual ha­rass­ment of fe­males. Mean­while, the in­sti­tute grap­ples with on­go­ing sex­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion lit­i­ga­tion.

Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, as­tronomer Ge­off Marcy left his fac­ulty po­si­tion in 2015 after re­ports that he en­gaged in inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct with fe­male stu­dents.

At the United Na­tions, en­gi­neer Ra­jen­dra Pachauri re­signed as chair of a cli­mate change panel in 2015 after he was ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2003 sur­vey cited in the re­port, 58 per­cent of fe­male aca­demic fac­ulty and staff said they ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“When com­par­ing the aca­demic work­place with the other work­places, the sur­vey found that the aca­demic work­place had the sec­ond high­est rate” of sex­ual ha­rass­ment be­hind the mil­i­tary, at 69 per­cent, the re­port said.

The re­port also cited a 2017 sur­vey by the Univer­sity of Texas sys­tem, which found that 20 per­cent of fe­male sci­ence stu­dents, more than 25 per­cent of fe­male en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents and more than 40 per­cent of fe­male med­i­cal stu­dents ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment from fac­ulty or staff mem­bers.

De­spite these in­ci­dents, sex­ual ha­rass­ment has most of­ten been dis­cussed in ar­eas out­side of academia, sci­ence and re­lated dis­ci­plines. The re­port says this is in part be­cause such con­duct is “min­i­mized and ig­nored,” es­pe­cially if com­mit­ted by sci­en­tists with good rep­u­ta­tions.

The re­port said the in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture needs to change, both to pe­nal­ize ha­rassers and to en­cour­age vul­ner­a­ble em­ploy­ees to speak up.


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