Last week, a day after The New York Times reported many years’ worth of sexual-harassment allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, another alarming report appeared, this one in Science magazine. The setting was different—Antarctic research expeditions, not Hollywood—but the narrative was the same. A man, well aware of his position of power, had preyed on women in his field, and his behavior had gone unchecked for years.
According to Science, Boston University is investigating sexual-harassment allegations against David Marchant, an Antarctic geologist and now department chair at the school, brought by two women, his former graduate students. The women say Marchant verbally and physically harassed them during research expeditions in Antarctica two decades ago. Science writer Meredith Wadman reported that documents related to the case suggest Marchant denies the allegations.
For young scientists, research expeditions are important experiences and career builders. They are, in some ways, workplaces like any other in a male-dominated industry, which means they are not immune to sexual harassment. In a 2014 survey of field scientists, 64 percent of respondents said they had personally experienced sexual harassment during their work, and 20 percent reported they were sexually assaulted. But the nature of field work can amplify the damaging effects of sexual harassment, particularly at very remote sites, where there’s little to no communication to the outside world. The distance from reality can become both physical and emotional. The feeling of helplessness that comes with abuse is magnified. In the moment, victims may, quite literally, have nowhere to turn.