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Sexual Harassment

On this page, the CSWA has compiled resources on the problem of sexual harassment, which seems to continue despite the good intentions of many people. Here, each link is accompanied by a short quotation or a short summary. Resources originating with government agencies and nonprofit organizations are emphasized in our selection. Also please see the relevant section on our Advice page. The webmaster would welcome suggestions of additional resources.

This page is organized according to content related to: (1) Employees; (2) Students; (3) Anyone

(1) Employees

"Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment At Work," from Equal Rights Advocates, Inc.

Includes a summary of the legal issues, contact information for relevant government agencies, and a "What to do" section.

"When you are deciding what to do, remember that every situation is different. There is no one best thing to do. You should always report the sexual harassment to your employer. You then have the option to use your company's sexual harassment complaint process, file a charge with a state or federal agency, and/or go to court."

"Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Primer," by Barry S. Roberts and Richard A. Mann

This scholarly article presents an apparently thorough review of the legal issues as they pertain to the business setting, complete with discussions of court rulings and of case studies. Unfortunately, the web site does not identify the authors' affiliations and has no link to the numerous footnotes.

"Sexual Harassment: The employer's role in prevention," by Mark I. Schickman

A thoughtful article about the legal issues, mainly aimed at employers, but useful for affected employees also. Includes a list of the "elements of a proper sexual harassment policy." Makes especially cogent comments about the importance of reporting incidents of harassment and proper conduct of investigations.

"The practical advice for ... evaluating potentially harassing conduct is to be as conservative as possible. If conduct might be construed as harassing, it has no place in the workplace. If an employee (and especially a manager or a supervisor) is not sure whether or not conduct will be unwelcome, the best advice is to avoid such conduct. ... An employer's obligations with regard to sexual harassment arise before any act of sexual harassment occurs. ..."

"Effects of Sexual Harassment," from the web site of Stop Violence against Women, a project of The Advocates for Human Rights

Summarizes the psychological, medical, and financial effects on victims and witnesses and the financial effects on employers and the economy at large, with numerous references to the research literature.

Blog on sexual harassment from Workforce of Women

At this writing, includes a checklist of workplace privileges that come with being male (suitable for our forthcoming page on unconscious bias), a nice video of a response by Tim Wise to a question, and some sexual harassment horror stories.

Workplace Fairness

The news page includes several news items on sexual harassment lawsuits. In addition, the site has a section devoted to racial and sexual harassment.

"Preventing Sexual Harassment: A Fact Sheet For Employees," by David Kadue

" ... explains what sexual harassment is under federal law and what it is not, the kinds of behavior that may be interpreted as sexual harassment in the workplace, how a workplace environment can become 'sexually hostile,' how to avoid sexual harassment of co-workers, how to deal with sexual harassment if it arises, and what to do if you become involved in a sexual harassment investigation.

"This publication was prepared by David Kadue [who unfortunately appears not to have proofread it - Webmaster], an attorney with the Los Angeles office of Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson. It is current through December 31, 2000; includes new standards established by the Supreme Court; and emphasizes the unlawfulness of harassment that is not sexual in nature but is based on gender. ..."

U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Home page of the federal agency charged with enforcing the laws against sexual harassment. Includes a press release about one of their recent successful lawsuits.

The Healthy Workplace Bill

'Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse.
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating
  • Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.
...

'Employers react to laws with internal policies. The real value of a law, and the true purpose of the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill, is to get employers to prevent bullying with policies and procedures that apply to all employees. The Bill, crafted by law professor David Yamada for the Healthy Workplace Campaign, gives good employers incentives to do the right thing by avoiding expensive litigation.'

(2) Students

"Sexual Harassment: Update from Anon," by Joan Schmelz, from AASWomen for February 11, 2011

'The March 26, 2010 issue of AASWomen contained a request for advice from an anonymous female Astronomy PhD student who was being sexually harassed by her thesis advisor. This young woman, whom we refer to as "Anon," has come a long way since she sent that message. She has graciously provided this update of her situation.'

Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, from the AAUW

This page includes links to the full report and to an executive summary.

'Based on findings from a nationally representative survey conducted in May and June, 2011, this report presents the most comprehensive research to date on sexual harassment in grades 7-12 and reveals some sobering statistics about the prevalence of sexual harassment and the negative impact it has on students' education.

'The report concludes with concrete recommendations and promising practices ... directed at school administrators, educators, parents, students and community members. We hope readers will be inspired to take new steps toward making schools free from sexual harassment.'

Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus, (PDF, 1.9 MB) from the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

'The Supreme Court affirmed in 1992 that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title IX ...

'Determining what is sufficiently severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive [to be considered illegal behavior by students] can be complicated. As this research demonstrates, people disagree on the severity of the problem. What is a laughing matter for one student may be offensive to another and traumatic to yet another, especially in the campus community, which teems with students and staff from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. In this context the legal standard is limited in its ability to serve as a catalyst to change behavior.'

"Sexual Harassment: It's Not Academic," from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

'The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.' It is charged with interpreting and enforcing Title IX.

This report is available as a 10-MB PDF or in HTML format. Outline of table of contents:
  • Part One: Defining Sexual Harassment
  • Part Two: Responding to Sexual Harassment
  • Part Three: Reporting and Preventing Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment on Campus

This MS Word document (96 KB) from Southern Illinois University Carbondale provides useful discussion of the definition of sexual harassment.

"Harrassment Jeopardy," by Ed Bertschinger, in Women in Astronomy, May 17, 2013

' ... The setting was an all-hands meeting of a university lab, where about 40 graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty learned about laws and policies relating to harassment from an employment attorney. I summarize what I learned in hopes that others will find it useful. Nothing herein is legal advice, and you should consult an attorney on matters of the law.

'Harassment claims at a university are handled under three different broad categories: federal law, state law, and employer policies. ...

'The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination publishes a very useful document, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Guidelines. Had I read it before our game show, I would have done better. Fortunately, my team included some very savvy postdocs and staff members who had a good sense of the law. In addition to sexual harassment, racial slurs and employer retaliation against complaints make good bases for legal action. I encourage you to check your own knowledge of harassment and anti-discrimination laws and policies, so that you will never make someone a multimillionaire.'

''In academia, there is no such thing as winning a sexual harassment complaint,'' The postgraduate, from theguardian.com, August 9, 2013

`Winning a sexual harassment complaint in academia is impossible. Not because universities never recognize loathsome abuses of power through decisive action, as in University of Miami philosophy Professor Colin McGinn's recent forced departure from his tenured position after a graduate student alleged harassment. But because there is no such thing as winning.

`No complaint outcome, on paper or in the form of material support, is going to undo the damage that harassment does.'



(3) Anyone

"Coming Out (of a Different Type of Closet)," by Joan Schmelz, in the February 18, 2011 issue of our newsletter AASWomen

The chair of the CSWA tells her story. She provided an update based on the feedback she received in the issue of March 4, 2011.

From our Advice page

Advice for students undergoing harassment from supervisors and for anyone in a professional setting

"Building Respect and Inclusion in Astronomy: Strategies for Addressing and Overcoming Harassment," by Sheryl Bruff and Bernice Durand, special session co-sponsored by CSWA and the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy, Strategies for Addressing Harassment and Prejudice

The above link is to a PowerPoint file (1.5 MB).

Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison home page on sexual harassment

A good example of what universities should be doing. Look for a similar office and web page at your institution.

"Hot for Teacher: Rethinking Education's Sexual Harassment Policies," by Michelle Miller, from Academic Matters, a magazine published by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations

A different point of view: 'Sexual harassment policies assume that teachers have power and students don't, argues Michelle Miller. Such policies risk outlawing consensual relationships that are "delicious, frightening, unruly" and just might reflect the excitement, even eroticism, of learning.'

"Reporting harassment," from Geek Feminism Wiki

'This page lists some strategies you might want to consider when reporting harassment.'

'The authors of this page oppose coercion to report. Whether a target of harassment or abuse decides to report is their decision. We rather intend to give you some resources that might help you prepare a report if you decide to do so.'

The page goes on to give two key ingredients of a report, a sample report, and some ideas on to whom to report.

"Conference anti-harassment/Responding to reports," from Geek Feminism Wiki

This extensive page gives advice on various aspects of responding to a report of sexual harassment, if one should occur at a professional conference. From the introduction:

'The key to responding to conference harassment is having a policy that forbids harassment. See the Conference anti-harassment pages for a sample policy and implementation resources, particularly, Conference anti-harassment/Policy resources for information about publicizing your policy, and educating event attendees.'

'Also prepare a list of emergency resources such as emergency services contact details and mental health and sexual assault hotlines. ...'

"Why Women Tend to Let Sexual Harassment Pass," by Jessica Firger, Everyday Health Staff Writer, Nov. 7, 2012

'Women judge others harshly for not standing up to sexual harassment, says a new study. That is, unless the woman has experienced sexual harassment herself.'

This news article reports on 'a recent study published in the journal Organization Science [that] says women are troubled by the lack of reporting. Peers who were aware of a colleague being harassed - but who said they had not been harassed themselves - believed they'd be more confrontational if placed in the same scenario. However, women who had experienced sexual harassment expressed more understanding and less judgment of victims who didn't report incidents.'

"Tips on anti-harassment policies – presentation from DPS 2012," posted November 5, 2012, Women in Planetary Science blog

Summary of a presentation, with slides, by Christina Richey at the Women in Astronomy Discussion Hour at the AAS’s Division for Planetary Sciences Conference in Reno, NV. The author is a member of the steering committee for the Women in Astrophysics discussion group at NASA Goddard Spaceflight center.

'I was extremely grateful for all those who listened and responded positively to the event at DPS. However, I was a bit dismayed at the number of women, especially younger scientists, who came to me and shared their own stories of harassment, and I hope the information I presented will guide you to ways to resolve issues you have faced. Please note that you are not alone, and I am but one women in this field who is willing to assist you and stand strong beside you, as this is an issue that should have long ago become a much, much smaller concern within our field. Here is a quick summary, with the slideshow attached, of my talk. I am writing what was stated out loud at the presentation, in case there was something of importance not on the slides, and for those who were unable to attend the meeting.'

"End harassment," Editorial in Nature, 22 October 2013

'Sexual harassment is a stain on science — and we must all take a stand against it.'

"How sexual harassment changed the way I work," by Kathleen Raven, Nature, December 5, 2013

The author relates personal experiences. Then:

' ... The experience changed the way I interact with men in professional settings. I am ready to tell them immediately if they step over a line. And if that does not work, then I will simply walk away. The situation has provided me a sort of shield, too, in the way that men may interact with me. If I am labelled as the 'woman who writes about sexual harassment' and kept at arm's length, then so be it.

'The law in the United States now is simple enough: “Harassment can include 'sexual harassment' or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” states the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on its website. The real work begins when a woman is confronted with a situation and must define it. (I focus on women here because, out of the nearly 11,400 sexual-harassment complaints filed to the commission in 2011, only about 2,000 came from men.) That definition can be boiled down to a simple rule that men must follow when they interact with female colleagues. Ask the question: "Would I say this to a man?"'

"My Successful Experience with Sexual Harassment," by an anonymous blogger, in Women in Astronomy, Wednesday, January 22, 2014

'The following is an anonymous guest post from a regular reader of the Women in Astronomy Blog. The below is a description of an individual's experience with sexual harassment. What worked for her, might not work for everyone. If you are being sexually harassed, please contact the sexual harassment officer at your institution for guidance on your particular situation:

'... I wanted to share my 'successful' experience with sexual harassment. Now perhaps successful it not the proper word to use here, but the below is a description of an experience where I was being sexually harassed, I did something about it, it all turned out ok, and I learned quite a bit from the process.'

"Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry," from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Strategies for calling out bigotry. Not specifically aimed at sexism, but the strategies should be useful in this setting as well.

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This page last updated: February 9, 2014