Field work is the main reason I started on a career in science. I’ve spent months on remote islands in eastern Canada and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska (in the latter case, without resupply for 11 weeks and with only one other person on the whole island!). I’ve been really lucky and always had great field techs, all of whom I would hire again. Being in the field with little / no other contact with humanity is a physically and mentally challenging experience, and with one small exception related to a steep hill and late snowfall, everything has gone tickety-boo and a-OK.
Not everyone is as lucky.
Kathryn Clancy, a blogger over at Scientific American, and an anthropology prof at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has compiled some sobering numbers and accounts of sexual harassment and even assault in bioanthropology field camps.
You should go and read her entire post.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
And now I’ll let you digest the fact that 59% of her respondents experienced sexual harassment, and 19% were sexually assaulted in the field.
Again, I’ll wait for those numbers to sink in.
What’s equally sobering (or perhaps chilling is a more appropriate word) is that in about half of the cases, the perpetrators of these occurrences of harassment and assault were higher in the chain of command of the field crew (e.g., a faculty member harassing a grad student).
Read that twice to make sure it sinks in.
In about half of the cases, the perpetrators of these occurrences of harassment and assault were higher in the chain of command of the field crew (e.g., a faculty member harassing a grad student).
Clancy and her colleagues have opened up the survey to other disciplines, and you can participate here.
Ecology and field biology have extensive field components, so there’s no reason to believe that similar offences are occurring at some level; hopefully this will be revealed in subsequent results of the survey.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted in the field, bring it to the attention of the proper authorities. I suspect (and Clancy reports) that one’s degree or career aspirations (and the fact that they can rest, at least in part, in the perpetrator’s hands) are reasons harassment and assault (and a variety of other transgressions that I’ll likely write about sooner rather than later) go unreported.
And remember–this is not just an issue for female field workers. Harassment, assault, and rape are not OK. At all. Ever. Period. Full stop. fin.