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Assault, Sexualized Discrimination and Violence During Research Trips Abroad

Sexualized discrimination and violence in science and academia is increasingly being discussed. Not least in the wake of the #MeToo movement, students, teaching staff, researchers and institutions have become more aware of possible forms of discriminating and abusive behavior and the need to train people in dealing with and preventing these incidents. But especially at German universities, most initiatives address harassment in the immediate campus environment. Research trips abroad in disciplines such as Archaeology, Anthropology, Agricultural Science, Geoscience or Development Research come with their own specific challenges.

Studies from the US and Canada (Clancy et al. 2014, Meyers et al. 2018, Radde 2018, Hanson und Richards 2019, Hodgetts et al. 2020) have found that the majority of students and researchers in these disciplines have already experienced or witnessed abusive behavior, sexualized discrimination and violence.  Women, members of the LGBTQIA community and people of color are affected disproportionately. The perpetrators are primarily heterosexual men. The case numbers are even higher in the context of field research and other stays abroad, where the accustomed structures of the campus and the classroom are left behind.

In recent decades, disciplines involving field research have become more diverse. Nevertheless, many students and researchers think of discrimination and violence as a natural part of their work. Stereotypical images of ‘the’ (male) field researcher and his environment have proven remarkably resistant to revision. Sometimes, research trips and archaeological excavations are stylized into adventures, with risks to the researcher’s own safety almost perceived as adding to the value of their research. These clichés tend to enable unfair behavior and violation of boundaries, and can make it unnecessarily difficult to take the important step of reporting such incidents. They leave those affected under the impression that they are simply oversensitive – not fit for the harsh reality of research. In addition, those affected by sexualized assault frequently question their own perception to begin with. This effect can be further reinforced by a researcher’s wish to reflect critically on their own perspective.

© pexels/josiah lewis
Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© pexels/rachel claire

Besides field work, transport and accommodation can also be problematic areas. Potential perpetrators might be members of the researcher’s own work group or of cooperating institutions, contact persons in administration, members of host families, interview partners or volunteers on site. Researchers are dependent on all of these people in order to be able to do their work. It must be noted that assault and harassment do not take place only within established structures of power and dependency. Frequently, they are used by perpetrators in order to establish positions of power and dependencies. This leads to a multitude of possible constellations, each raising its own questions – regarding the immediate options for self-protection, but also regarding the legal possibilities.


Clancy, K. B. H., Nelson, R. G., Rutherford, J. N., & Hinde, K. (2014). Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assault. PLoS ONE, 9(7), Article e102172. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102172

Cuny, C. (2021). Sexualisierte Gewalt in der Feldforschung. IfS Working Paper 15. http://www.ifs.uni-frankfurt.de/wp-content/uploads/IfS-WP-15-Cuny-1.pdf

Flores, N. M. (2020). Harassment at conferences: will #MeToo momentum translate to real change? Gender and Education, 32(1), 137–144. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2019.1633462

Givens, T. E. (2019, December 15). Dealing with harassment at academic conferences: An interview with lawyer Paula Brantner. Higher Ed Connects. https://higheredconnects.com/harassment-at-academic-conferences/

Hanson, R. & Richards, P. (2019). Harassed: Gender, bodies, and ethnographic research. University of California Press.

Hodgetts, L., Supernant, K., Lyons, N., & Welch, J. R. (2020). Broadening #MeToo: Tracking dynamics in Canadian archaeology through a survey within the discipline. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 44(1), 20–47.

Kloß, S. T. (2017). Sexual(ized) harassment and ethnographic fieldwork: A silenced aspect of social research. Ethnography, 18(3), 396–414. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138116641958

Meyers, M. S., Horton, E. T., Boudreaux, E. A., Carmody, S. B., Wright, A. P., & Dekle, V. G. (2018). The context and consequences of sexual harassment in southeastern archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 6(4), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2018.23

Mary, L., Pasquini, B. & Vandevelde, S. (2019). Le sexisme en archéologie, ça n’existe pas. Canadian Journal of Bioethics, 2(3), 215–242. https://doi.org/10.7202/1066480ar

Radde, H. D. (2018). Sexual harassment among California archaelogists: Results of the Gender Equity and Sexual Harassment Survey. California Archaeology, 10(2), 231–255. https://doi.org/10.1080/1947461X.2018.1535816

Voss, B. L. (2021). Disrupting cultures of harassment in archaeology: Social-environmental and trauma-informed approaches to disciplinary transformation. American Antiquity, 86(3), 447–464. https://doi.org/ 10.1017/aaq.2021.19


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