A survey published last month found evidence of alarming levels of sexual violence (towards 26% of women and 6% of men) in the course of fieldwork by life scientists (see Nature http://doi.org/t3n; 2014). Meanwhile, more than 50 US higher-education institutions are under investigation for their handling of complaints of such incidents. As a rape survivor and scientist, I suggest measures that could help to counteract this situation.
Scientific research organizations should draw up professional codes of ethics, akin to those of the Modern Language Association of America and the American Historical Association, with explicit provisions that denounce sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation.
A national framework that academic, industrial and government institutions could sign or adapt would be an important step. Such proactive strategies would prevent interference with the core work of researchers. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Athena SWAN Charter outlines a series of best practices to further and protect women's careers (see go.nature.com/mkxlr8).
Institutions must make clear the repercussions for students and employees who transgress, and provide a mechanism for consistent enforcement (such as an adjudication committee) that would complement any legal redress.
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Hardy, M. Create ethics codes to curb sex abuse. Nature 512, 136 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/512136d
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