A Warning for our Daughters: Sexual Violence in S.T.E.M Programs


We have all seen the push from educators for girls and young women to be educated in the so-called S.T.E.M disciplines(science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Our girls are promised well paying “jobs of the future” if they embark on S.T.E.M careers. However, there is no warning about the sexual violence they may be subjected to while studying toward making their futures secure.


I read in last week’s New York Times the heartbreaking and  poignant account by a  female scientist of the rape she suffered as a graduate student.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/20/opinion/science-has-a-sexual-assault-problem.html?ref=todayspaper. Her raw depiction of her sexual assault, highlights the fact that there are no uniform measures in place to protect female graduate students from sexual violence or  procedures to report and investigate assaults. Instead, these victims often live in shame and silence, fearing their careers as scientist may be negatively impacted.


  1. Hope Jahren, a professor of geo-biology at the University of Hawaii’s tells us: “I was a promising graduate student. I landed a position as a professor before I even started to write my dissertation….one day, in the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya.. It was broad daylight when I began walking back to the hotel, and a stranger pulled me into a stairwell — and then did some other things. Perhaps an hour later I staggered out with his blood under my fingernails. I cannot describe what happened in a way you will understand, because I still do not understand it myself. I have been trying to understand it for almost 20 years.”


Unfortunately, her story is not unique among female graduate students doing field work. In July, Kathryn B. H. Clancy and her co-authors Robin G. Nelson, Julienne N. Rutherford and Katie Hinde published a survey of 666 field-based scientists in the journal PLoS One. They reported that 26 percent of the female scientists surveyed had been sexually assaulted during fieldwork. Most of these women encountered this abuse very early in their careers, as trainees. The travel inherent to scientific fieldwork increases vulnerability especially within unfamiliar and unpredictable conditions. Male respondents reported significantly less assault (6 percent). Often, it is the men in the female scientist own field team, co-workers, who violate their female colleagues. The women surveyed by Dr. Clancy’s team stated that their “perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team.” Their study also considered the availability of mechanisms by which to report such  incidents. They found that only 18 percent of respondents who experienced assault said that they were aware of a way to report the assault.

Ms. Jahal concluded, “each scientific field excursion needs an authority figure who has been clearly designated as someone whom women can tell…there is a fundamental and culturally learned power imbalance between men and women, and it follows us into the workplace. The violence born of this imbalance follows us also. We would like to believe that it stops short of following us into the laboratory and into the field — but it does not. I listen to my colleagues talk endlessly about recruiting more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, and postulate what the barriers might be. Sexual assault is a pernicious and formidable barrier to women in science, partly because we have consistently gifted to it our silence. I have given it 18 years of my silence and I will not give it one day more.”


We owe it to our daughters(and our sons for that matter) to educate them about sexual assault and require institutions to have policies and procedure to address sexual violence. Silence and misplaced shame only hurt the victim and help perpetrators and those institutions that enable them to get away with sex crimes and avoid being held accountable.  No one should have to be subjected to rape to be a scientist. Our daughters deserve a better.

The Law Office of Tahira Khan Merritt stands ready to help you with your legal needs. If you were sexually assaulted or sexually abused,  our law firm can help explain your legal remedies.  For almost twenty years, we have exclusively represented victims of sex crimes in civil cases against institutions, including colleges and universities, religious organizations, such as the Catholic church, Baptist church, Greek Orthodox church, Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian church among others. We have also represented victims of sexual abuse in schools,  youth sports organizations,  youth camps, daycares, scouting and the like. You may confidentially contact our office at 214-503-7300 or through our website :  https://tkmlawfirm.com/.






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