If you haven’t read the important and heart wrenching post by a brave female theoretician about sexual harassment and rape as part of her academic life in our community, please do it now. The word “brave” here is an understatement. Hard for me to imagine the strength that facing these memories again and taking the risk of exposure must have required. I also don’t use “important” lightly as it doesn’t only make the pain that comes with sexual harassment so vivid but also because it demonstrates the cost to our community. We have lost so much of the voice and perspective and creativity of our dear colleague and I know that not only hers. There may be very little that I can say or do about the rape that you experienced. I wish I could hold your hands and cry with you. But I could have done much more to make our community more supportive to all and hostile to none. I therefore not only thank you for the post but also apologize for any inaction, let alone, for any insensitive action I might have been guilty of.
Empowered by the #metoo movement, a group of us (Edith Cohen, Vitaly Feldman, Ronitt Rubinfeld, myself and others) have been discussing in the last few weeks what we can do moving forward. I want to share some of our thoughts (and one additional comment). We would love to hear your thoughts.
- In a different context I wrote: “Our collaborators, our audience, our points of reference, are not only the colleagues next door but probably more so our colleagues across the globe.“ In this sense, our community is also our work place and it is very appropriate to view sexual harassment in conferences as creating a hostile work environment. But usually, in our “official” work places we have HR or other representatives that we can contact for support. Who do we contact about sexual harassment in a conference or a visit?
- A partial answer is: the chair of the conference or the representative of the academic society that runs the conference or the work place of the offender etc. Indeed, most of these institutions will be obliged to act. See for example ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
- For a victim to act at the face of sexual harassment and against colleagues with influence on the victim’s career is hard enough in regular circumstances. Sending a victim to complain to any of the institutions above seems unrealistic.
- We (the aforementioned group) believe that TOC needs its own, widely accepted, code of conduct. This will at the minimum let all of us acknowledge our joint responsibilities (in addition to any relevant legal, ethical or contractual obligations we already have).
- We also need a committee of senior individual that can be contacted by victims. Such a committee may not have any legal power but it will have a moral authority to act. In particular, to inform all the relevant entities and to mitigate any threat of retaliation.
- Finally, I want to point out a rather old post that seems very relevant to our discussion (even after we take away rape and harassment): on intellectual passion and its unfortunate confusion with sexual passion (and how it may relate to issues of gender).