Friday, July 25, 2014

fieldwork and harassment

How common is harassment for field scientists? Chris Rowan recently discussed this paper on sexual harassment of field workers. The paper is focused on academic field experiences, but I'd like to address the issue in terms of environmental (industry) experiences.

I have not been the target of sexual advances or harassment by any managers, superiors, or advisors. But those folks have rarely been in the field with me anyway. I've never been bothered by subcontractors - I've certainly run into folks with, ah, interesting attitudes, but they've never made a pass at me or made me concerned for my safety. After all, if they scare me enough, I'll yank them off the site. I've only had one coworker who made me uncomfortable (mentioned here).

My main problems have been with the random people I've encountered.

I've been harassed in two types of situations:

1. In the middle of nowhere. I may or may not have a coworker on-site, but even if they are technically on-site, they may not be in immediate visual/audible range. I may get harassed by local ATV riders/hunters/other locals, but usually they're just passing through. With that said, it's definitely more scary when you're more or less on your own.

2. back corners or quiet areas in otherwise busy residential/industrial zones. This is where I get the persistent scary harassers (usually male). I'm technically not alone, but there's a higher concentration of people with too much time on their hands and who want to test the line between "creep her out" and "send her running/yelling for help".

How can you avoid those sorts of situations in the field? The jerks out in their native habitat don't pay attention to your organization's sexual harassment policies and procedures. The only advice I have is to make sure you have a field buddy, and to make sure that it's understood that it is a health and safety requirement. And if it's your coworker, supervisor, or some other site worker who is the problem, make sure that the issue is escalated to the appropriate parties and properly addressed. After all, a field buddy isn't much use if you have to fend them off instead of the bears/ticks/angry locals.

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