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NIH Apologizes In Wake Of Revelations About Sexual Harassment In Science

The apology by the National Institutes of Health follows an investigation finding that federal agencies may be perpetuating the problem.
The National Institutes of Health has apologized and acknowledged failures to reduce sexual harassment within its agency.
The National Institutes of Health has apologized and acknowledged failures to reduce sexual harassment within its agency.

The National Institutes of Health has issued a public apology and has vowed “to do better” in the wake of internal sexual harassment allegations and an investigation concluding that not enough is being done.

In a statement on Thursday, the federal agency acknowledged a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that found no evidence that current policies, procedures, and approaches have significantly reduced sexual harassment in its fields.

The report, which was funded by the NIH and other government science agencies, additionally concluded that “federal agencies may be perpetuating the problem of sexual harassment.”

“To all those who have endured these experiences, we are sorry that it has taken so long to acknowledge and address the climate and culture that has caused such harm,” the NIH said in response. “We are concerned that NIH has been part of the problem. We are determined to become part of the solution.”

The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, are overwhelmingly made up of men and in the case of sexual assault victims, the perpetrators are often, though not always, men, the NIH said.

“It’s morally indefensible, it’s unacceptable, and it presents a major obstacle that is keeping women from achieving their rightful place in science,” the NIH said of the abuse.

We are concerned that NIH has been part of the problem. We are determined to become part of the solution.

The National Academies’ report states that “the legal system alone is not an adequate mechanism for reducing or preventing sexual harassment” and that federal civil rights laws, like Title IX and Title VII, should be viewed “as a floor, not a ceiling” for the required treatment of others.

In the wake of the National Academies’ findings and the current #MeTooSTEM movement, the NIH said it is taking additional measures, including holding this month’s first meeting by the Working Group of the Advisory Council to the Director (ACD) on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment.

The ACD Working Group will report interim recommendations in June and provide a final report and recommendations to the ACD in December, the NIH said.

The institution has also created a new email address of GranteeHarassment@od.nih.gov, for reporting harassment concerns.

The NIH added that in 2018, 35 allegations of a sexual nature by NIH staff were investigated, leading to formal disciplinary actions ― ranging from a reprimand to termination of employment ― being taken against 10 staff members. Informal disciplinary actions ― including counseling or training and cease and desist warnings ― were also taken against another 10 staff members.

The agency said that it recognizes that “these numbers seem small” when compared to the National Academies findings, but that it is continuing to expand its outreach and improve its response.

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