64 Percent of Women Scientists Say They've Been Sexually Harassed Doing Fieldwork

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 11:50 AM EDT

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting fieldwork, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject.

The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while working at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

"Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive," Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. "We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science."

Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists "are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career," the Washington Post noted.

The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to a recent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

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