Why Sexual Misconduct in Academia Needs to Be Made Public

I have spent two-plus years documenting sexual harassment and misconduct in academia. Many universities go to great lengths to ensure that these cases are downplayed – while I have uncovered 614 cases of faculty/administrator sexual misconduct, undoubtedly there are many more cases that remain hidden from public view. In addition, in many of these cases: 1) the perpetrators resigned or retired and investigations ended without any findings, and/or 2) publicly available reports are anonymized with respect to perpetrator names and departments. Many institutions claim that they cannot release the names of individuals found to have committed sexual misconduct by claiming that “personnel matters” are private, or because resolutions were reached through negotiations that included non-disclosure agreements.

Recent high-profile cases illustrate the importance of disclosing the names of sexual misconduct perpetrators to protect communities. In one case, a professor and doctor (Nassar) at Michigan State University was sentenced to a lifetime in prison for assaulting AT LEAST 250 young women. In a second case, a Harvard University government professor (Domínguez) has announced his retirement after over twenty women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.

In the Michigan State case, questions remain about how the university handled multiple complaints about Nassar – at least FOURTEEN people at MSU were aware of complaints against him over two decades. The fact that Nassar was a sexual predator would have remained a secret save for the bravery of one woman – Rachel Denhollander – and her publicizing the abuse she suffered. This one woman started an avalanche of similar stories from hundreds of women. If she had not come forward, how many more atrocities would Nassar have been able to commit with impunity?

In the Harvard case, the campus newspaper reported Domínguez’s sexual harassment in the 80s. I was unable to find reports on this case outside of the institution. Terry Karl, the woman who was brave enough to speak openly about Domínguez’s abuse, appeared in a 1991 Stanford newspaper article about her experience reporting her harassment. However, it wasn’t until a Chronicle of Higher Education story in February 2018 that Dr. Karl’s story became national news. Within a few weeks, so many women had come forward to also report their abuse that Harvard opened a new investigation and Domínguez announced his retirement.

These two cases are not isolated. Cantalupo and Kidder (2017) reviewed cases of faculty harassment of students and found that MORE THAN HALF of perpetrators were serial harassers. Here are a few more examples from my list of cases:

What can we learn from these cases? Cantalupo and Kidder (2017) have clearly documented that serial harassment is common, and my own read of documented cases supports their conclusion. Given that most cases of harassment never see the light of day, we should question if the number of serial harassers would be higher if victims/survivors* were able to publicly tell their stories. How many more cases are hiding behind institutional legalese, and how many more harassers are able to walk the halls, unimpeded? Enough is enough. Let us own the behavior of our colleagues, call them out, and make sure our colleges and universities are safe spaces for everyone.

*We are both victims and survivors. I honor the experience of being harassed and assaulted as complicated, and something that can be survived even as we continue to be victimized.