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Science Committee Passes Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has cleared legislation to address sexual harassment in STEM-related fields.

The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, introduced by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in April, seeks to provide for research to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment affecting individuals in the STEM workforce, and to examine policies to reduce the prevalence and negative impact of such harassment.

Various amendments were made to the original text of the bill before it went to a vote.

The legislation incorporates recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.”

The report, which was released in 2018, found that sexual harassment is more common among engineering and medical students than students in other fields. More than half of female students reported that they were harassed by either a staff or faculty member, leading them to take measures such as skipping professional meetings and social situations, dropping out of research projects, and leaving jobs, thus affecting their career growth.

The latest bill calls for uniform policy guidelines to be issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for federal science agencies on how to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual harassment at grantee institutions. It also directs OTSP to develop an inventory of current federal science agency policies, procedures, and resources for preventing and responding to reports of sexual harassment.

The institutions must report back to the funding agencies to communicate the findings of their sexual harassment investigations, thus bringing more federal oversight over individuals involved in such cases including faculty members and staff.

The bill also proposes undertaking a new study on how sexual harassment in higher education influences career advancement in the STEM workforce, and directs the National Science Foundation to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in higher education.

“Sexual harassment in the academic workplace has been far too prevalent for far too long and must be eliminated,” Felice J. Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association, said while endorsing the legislation.

“We are thrilled to see the committee pass this legislation, which includes concrete, action-oriented steps directed at the pernicious problems so well identified in the recent National Academies consensus report.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Physical Society, nearly three-quarters of the 471 undergraduate women who attended Society’s 2017 Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) had experienced sexual harassment at some point over the last two years.

The study also found that 73 percent of respondents experienced gender harassment, which is often not categorized as a case of sexual harassment. The report observed significant professional and personal consequences on the victims as well.

University of Kansas Joins Initiative to End Sexual Harassment

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