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Is academia a haven for sexual predators?

There's been a lot of attention focused on allegations of sexual harassment in Hollywood these days -- but there are plenty of other industries with similar problems. Academia, particularly among scientists, is another area of concern. According to new research, the problem is so bad that it may be preventing women from fully competing in or contributing to their fields of study in areas like medicine and engineering.

Using data compiled over several decades, researchers looking into sexual harassment issues among scientists found several shocking issues at play:

The male-dominated fields of science are conducive to sexual harassment

Women in science across the board are subject to sexual harassment at an alarming rate. For undergrads, the rate is more than 20 percent on average. It's much higher in specific fields, like medicine or engineering. If a woman moves into research at an actual university, her odds of being harassed on the job are more than one out of two.

Some groups of people suffer harassment more than others

If you're a woman from an ethnic minority or anyone who identifies as homosexual or transgendered, the odds that you'll experience sexual harassment go up. More of these individuals feel unsafe at work than any other group of people.

The environment is damaging the entire field of science

When people don't feel safe at study or work, it's difficult for them to put their best efforts in. If they don't feel like they are regarded as equals, they may not feel like anything they do will be taken seriously. Overall, this leads women and others who experience sexual harassment to leave the field of research and go elsewhere. As a whole, that's damaging to the field.

While there's a lot more research that needs to be done, one thing is clear: It's time for scientists who experience sexual harassment to speak up and put a stop to it. It's also time for those who witness such behavior to step forward and lend their support in the fight against sexual harassment. When that kind of behavior stops, everyone benefits.

Source: Vox, "4 big takeaways from a huge new report on sexual harassment in science," Julia Beliuz, June 13, 2018

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