Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: The SAFE study w/ Dr. Kate Clancy

Image: Dr. Kate Clancy (UIUC)
The "Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault" study that was published in PLOS ONE on July 16, 2014 by the team of biological anthropologists Kate Clancy (UIUC), Robin Nelson (Skidmore), Julienne Rutherford (UIC), and Katie Hinde (Harvard)  revealed several issues relating to harassment and assault within the field of anthropology. 

Some of the issues highlighted:
  • A lack of awareness on codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies.
  • 2/3 of the 666 respondents reported some form of harassment (71% of women respondents and 41% of men respondents) or assault (26% of women respondents).
  • 90% of women and 70% of men were trainees or employees when harassed or assaulted.
  • Perpetrators of harassment and assault differed between men and women,  with women typically being targeted by people senior to them and men by peers.
Dr. Kate Clancy was kind enough to be interviewed for lessons learned from the study, how this results may impact other scientific fields (like astronomy), and next steps for solving the issues at hand.

1. What was the main motivation for your study?  Had there been previous studies of harassment and assault within the field that pointed towards a larger issue?

To our knowledge there were no previous studies that explored harassment and assault at field sites, but there were papers detailing individual experiences and interactions in the field. There were also surveys on other professions, particularly the health professions and business that suggested hostile workplaces were big problems for women. Personally, I was motivated by a story a friend told me of her own assault, her attempts to report it, and the slow realization that no one wanted her to go forward with the story because they were privileging their field site's data over her mental, physical, and emotional health. This friend's story, and soon after another's, made me realize that my amazing field experience did not match that of many of my colleagues'.

Once these stories were pseudonymized and shared on my blog, more stories poured in, via email, on comments, on Twitter, and in person. By this point I was known as the person to whom you go to share your story of assault or harassment, but I didn't know what to do with all this except raise awareness. Heather Shattuck-Heidorn and M. Elle Saine invited me to give a talk on the ethics of field site management at our professional society meetings, and this is the point at which I realized the issue had gotten too big for me. Ever since that point, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde and I have been working on a team in developing and analyzing this project.

2. Did the results surprise you?

The results did not surprise me, but it does feel very different to have over 600 surveys tell you something, compared to dozens of anecdotes.

3. What is the key take away message from this study?

There were really 3 key findings, to my mind. First, women are targeted more than men, and trainees more than any other employment status. Second, the nature of the harassment and assault towards men and women were different: women tended to be abused by their higher ups, where men were harassed by their peers (there are too few data points of men being assaulted for us to say the direction of those abuses). Third, very few individuals knew of any reporting mechanism should they be targeted for harassment or assault; fewer still did report their experience; and then, of those, only 7 individuals were satisfied with the outcome of reporting.

4. Are there any follow-up studies being performed?

We are in the midst of writing a second paper, based on our analyses of 26 interviews I conducted with a semi-random subset of survey respondents. With the interviews we have respondents' entire stories. This makes it easier for us to find strong links between field site activities, cultures, or behaviors, and the respondents' experiences.

5. Has there been any action from groups within the field of anthropology as a result of this study?

Several professional societies have issued zero tolerance statements across a few field disciplines, and I know our paper is required reading now in several professional societies, departments, and labs.

6. The study showed noticeable differences in the treatment of men and women within the field?  Which of those results were the most surprising for you?

I think the fact that the women experienced vertical abuse, and the men horizontal, was both surprising and confirmatory. That is, it makes sense to think that those who target women are more likely to be their superiors, because they may be making a particularly predatory decision given their additional vulnerability. But again, seeing those data laid bare like that still hit me hard.

7. What can we, as a community of scientists (not in this field, but with a similar problem of ongoing harassment within our community), do to help?  What can we take away from the SAFE study?

To my mind, the first take-away is that harassment and assault are major, ongoing problems for women across many, if not all, professions. This issue has not been resolved, it's not any better now than in the previous generation, and it's not going away. We need to confront this reality if we are to move forward.

In terms of how to eradicate harassment and assault, a multi-level approach will be needed. We need to educate more people that consent is the basis of healthy communication between partners -- yes means yes instead of no means no. We need to help people understand the power they have when they are bystanders to something wrong -- they need to speak up, and we need to create a culture of accountability here. We all know perpetrators in our disciplines who get away with a lot. Why do we let them continue to have success in their jobs? The cost is often intense psychological harm to many individuals, targets and bystanders, who have to leave the field or continue to interact with someone who has hurt them.

Finally, we need clearer, safer reporting mechanisms for those moments when targets do feel they can report their experiences. We need these to be available whenever people are working, even when it's not on campus, because campus policy is still supposed to apply in observatories, field sites, and field schools.

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: The Solution Series

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