Sexual misconduct is pervasive in society today, and is oftentimes supported by structures and institutions that promote power and privilege for some while increasing the marginalization, and subsequent likelihood of victimization, of others. In 2006, the #MeToo movement was founded to encourage survivors of sexual abuse, particularly women of color, to share their experiences. This movement entered into the public eye after the #MeToo hashtag went viral in October 2017, and continues to show the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in all areas of social and professional life. It also aims to hold accountable those who commit this type of misconduct.
Academia is no exception to this problem, with sexual misconduct occurring regularly on university campuses as well as within academic professional organizations. Individuals with less power in the academic hierarchy (e.g. students, non-tenured professors, and members of marginalized communities) are more likely to experience sexual misconduct, though, as is the case with sexual misconduct in general, no one is immune.
At the micro level, sexual misconduct harms survivors in multiple ways (e.g. chronic mental, physical, and sexual health problems, substance abuse, relationship problems, and damaged reputations). It can also deny them professional opportunities and even end professional careers. At the macro level, sexual misconduct harms universities and academic professional organizations as a whole. When sexual misconduct takes place, it creates an environment that feels less safe and can bring into question the integrity of the university/organization and its members.
The way in which academia promotes professional hierarchies on the basis of achievement codified through status, rank, and narrow definitions of achievement, and incorporates and recreates social hierarchies based on identity such as gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, ability, and others can support an environment in which sexual misconduct takes place. All of these bases for inequality provide the foundation for power dynamics that are reinforced through interactions, policies, and other organizational and structural elements, as well as through cultural assumptions, beliefs, and stereotypes.
While policies may be put into place to help protect individuals against sexual misconduct and to hold universities and academic processional organizations accountable for the behavior of their members, not all of these policies are effective.