Sexual harassment is rampant in the academy as it is in every other industry. The entrenched hierarchies of the academic world, the small size of most scholarly fields, the male dominance of virtually every field other than women’s studies, the culture of collegiality (read, evasiveness and pretense) that predominates, and junior scholars’ desperate dependency on good references for career advancement, make for conditions in which sexual abuse (and indeed abuse of all kinds) can flourish with impunity.
Because it is so difficult for many victims in the academy to speak out about cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, I have decided to create an anonymous, opensourced Sexual Harassment in the Academy survey (similar to the one I created years back on Ph.D. debt – see the Ph.D. Debt Survey here).
You can share your own story using the Survey Submission Form below.
My hope is that this survey will allow victims to find a safe way to anonymously report their experience of sexual harassment. My goal is for the academy as a whole to begin to grasp the true scope and scale of this problem in academic settings. I hope it provides aggregate information in the form of personal stories of abuse and its career outcomes for victims (which, as a cultural anthropologist I consider the most potent form of data), paving the way for more frank conversations and more effective interventions.
Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual harassment, and until this issue is addressed head on, women will continue to be hounded out of academia, as they are from every other career from comedy to politics. I hope that gathering stories will allow women in particular to know they are not alone, and create conditions for women to thrive in their chosen careers.
Share your own story using the Survey Submission Form just below.
PLEASE BE AWARE: Your answers will automatically be entered (totally anonymously, with no way to track your identity) into a PUBLIC SPREADSHEET, VISIBLE TO ALL, which you may view by clicking through to it. Please do not share any information you don’t wish to be immediately visible to the public.
And here again is link to the SPREADSHEET OF RESPONSES (as of late December with 1900+ entries), where you can follow each individual entry through all of its elements: SPREADSHEET.
The stories on the spreadsheet make for brutal but urgent reading. Thank you to all who have participated. And thank you to those who have followed up by email to name their harassers and the administrators who protected them. I have a long list. I promise to keep this entirely confidential, but will use the names to potentially connect victims of the same perpetrator. You may email me at email@example.com to add your story.
The sum total of these almost 2000 entries allows everyone to see that sexual predation is endemic to the power hierarchies of the academy in ways that almost perfectly parallel Hollywood: powerful older men are gatekeepers to vulnerable younger women, use their power for sexual predation, and are then protected by other senior men and women invested more in preserving the power structure than in defending victims. Women of color are doubly vulnerable and doubly bullied when they see redress.
This piece by K.A. Amienne, Abusers and Enablers in the Academy, lays out the dynamic of enabling that prevails:
My department chair had all the security that race, class, gender, and tenure at a top-10 university can bestow. And still he was too afraid to do his job properly. I was a woman, a student, crushed under debt, without institutional support, and minus parents or any other safety net back in the working-class world from which I’d come. How was I supposed to confront this professor on my own when people who could have — and should have — would not?
So I did what a lot of women do. After earning my Ph.D., I walked away from a life in which I’d invested time, money, and work. I spent the next several years blaming myself, replaying the scenes, repeating the words of those in power. I had mixed feelings of relief and resentment as I met others who told different versions of “Yes, everyone knows he’s like this.”
Sharing your story, even anonymously, can be transformative for victims. You can see that you’re not alone, that you did nothing wrong, that the structure sets you up for victimization and systematically prevents consequences for the perpetrator. I believe this document removes plausible deniability from academic institutions about the pervasiveness and severity of sexual harassment, and I hope that it can promote greater peace, clarity, and resolve among its many victims, no matter what they choose to do moving forward. Solidarity.