Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Be the comet

It has been a bad month for flashbacks for victims of sexual harassment in Academia. First came the horrific stories of campus harassment from Rochester University, followed by the Antarctic harassment from Boston University, followed by the story of Harassment by a major Hollywood movie producer. At this point the producer has lost his job, and investigations continue for the two professors. And closer to home, the University of Canberra professor who was convicted of raping a student has appealed against his 4 year sentence.

As geologists, we need to figure out how to consign these dirtbags to the fossil record, preferably on a human, not geologic timescale. There are many ways to wipe out a species, but I am going to focus on what I think is an important one that is often overlooked: Habitat destruction.

It is no accident that harassment issues are constantly popping up in the academic and creative workplaces. Both sectors value their reputation, and are willing to defend the appearance of everything being fine. Both disciplines are popular career choices, with many more people willing to work in them than there are available jobs. Both sectors value intelligence to the point of considering it a virtue, or being willing to overlook other problems in the name of “Genius.” Both sectors have substantial hierarchies, with few formal checks and balances on power.

It is these problems that we should address if we want these perpetrators to go extinct. The names aren’t important- I haven’t even mentioned them above. As long as universities and studios build the perfect ecological niche for abusers to thrive in, then they will flock to the sectors. It is institutional change that is needed to actually stop the abuse.

So, specifically, what has to happen?

Firstly, reporting mechanisms need to be transparent and incorruptible. The reason that these scum can continue to wreck peoples lives for decades is that complaints, even if made, are too easy to bury. An administration that prefers ongoing, covert sexual assault on its campus over an embarrassing headline can simply use the reporting mechanism as a way of silencing victims, allowing the rapist to continue offending for decades.

Whomever victims report to, be it the police, the funding agencies, professional organizations, or some special independent body, the report receiver needs to be able to investigate allegations without being pressured from the university. In cases where potentially illegal activities have occurred and complainants are threatened, then university officials should be subject to the same treatment as organized criminals who try to intimidate witnesses.

Sexual predators are ambush predators- they need cover from which to attack, and removing administrative cover gives them fewer places to hide. There must be heavy penalties for authorities who fail to act, especially if the offender commits further offences. Administrators who cover for offenders so that they can offend again should be considered accessories.

However, these crooks are also pack animals, so a healthy culture is important towards setting an example of what is and isn’t professional behavior. This is not in itself a solution, but it makes sketchy behavior stand out more easily, and it puts the ratbags on notice that the work place is for real men, not whiney losers.

Finally, although habitat destruction is important, the offenders to have to be hunted down when spotted. This is best done by the whole work team, as uncharismatic megafauna can be dangerous in single combat. However, a habitat in which they are allowed to operate with impunity is not detrimental to them. It is by shrinking their range through a unfavorable setting that allows them to be vulnerable to catastrophic events, but those events still need to be initiated. If a change in corporate climate has weakened the terrible lizardmen, and drying their environment removes their cover and their hiding places, then it is much easier to be the comet that wipes them out.

1 comment:

Chris Phoenix said...

Thank you. This needs saying.