Scientific American She was a young, enthusiastic graduate student when she traveled to her research site outside a rural town in a foreign country. She had spent years immersed in her research and, as is the case with many young scientists, the field study was a vital opportunity to gain experience and advance her career.
The harassment started with intimate questions about her love life and sexualized comments about her body. At first, she even joined in the banter, trading insults with her mostly male colleagues. She was already uncomfortable, then colleagues started joking about selling her into prostitution. Pornographic photos began to appear in her private workspace.
When she walked unaccompanied through the nearby town, catcalls and the groping hands of local men followed. At work, she felt only marginally safer. The joking had spiraled out of control. When she confronted her professor about it, he told her she was being overly sensitive, their relationship deteriorated, and he eventually revoked his promise to fund her through graduate school.
The scientist posted her anonymous story to University of Illinois anthropology professor Kathy Clancy's blog on the Scientific American website in 2012. The story is one of several Clancy has posted on the blog and is also, according to new research led by Clancy, a disturbingly common feature of scientific field research.
A survey of 142 men and 516 women across scientific disciplines found that many of them suffered or witnessed sexual harassment or sexual assault while at work in the field. A report analyzing the data, published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, found that 64 percent of survey respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. More than 20 percent reported that they had been victims of sexual assault.