Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Stop Sexual Harassment in STEM Workforce

April 27, 2021

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined lawmakers in taking action to combat sexual harassment in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as in the federal scientific workforce.

Together with U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tina Smith (D-MN), Shaheen introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act today. The bill would investigate factors contributing to sexual harassment in STEM, examine the impacts of harassment and policies to reduce it and spur interagency efforts to stop this harassment.

“Sexual harassment exists everywhere, but it’s especially pervasive in male-dominated fields like STEM. Harassment creates a culture of impunity, fear and abuse that too often drives away some of our brightest and most talented minds from the sciences,” said Shaheen. “This legislation includes common-sense policies to identify and address factors contributing to harassment and ensure our scientific workforce can thrive. Supporting survivors of sexual harassment and violence will always be a top priority for me in the Senate.”

This legislation follows a landmark 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which found that sexual harassment is wide-spread in higher education institutions and contributes to loss of talented, highly-trained individuals in STEM. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act would award grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand the factors contributing to and consequences of sexual harassment across institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations and to examine interventions to reduce its frequency and impact. The bill would also direct federal statistical agencies to collect national data on the prevalence, nature and implications of sexual harassment in institutions of higher education, direct NSF to enter into an agreement with the Academies to update the Academies’ research conduct report to include more detailed data points and establish an interagency working group chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate the efforts of federal science agencies.

The text of the Senate legislation can be found here and a summary of the bill can be found here.

In addition to introducing the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, Shaheen, along with Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to direct his administration to address sexual harassment in the federal scientific workforce.

As President Biden works to restore scientific integrity throughout the federal workforce, the lawmakers urged him to also address sexual and gender-based harassment across federal agencies. The senators noted that by doing so, federal agencies will be a model for other institutions to follow.

“We write to request that as you continue work to bolster the federal scientific workforce, you prioritize addressing sexual and gender-based harassment across all relevant agencies. The beginning of any new administration brings the opportunity to set the tone for how federal agencies will carry out their missions. We believe that establishing a clear, consistent message that sexual and gender-based harassment will not be tolerated during your term is critical to not only improving morale among federal scientists, but also attracting and retaining a highly qualified scientific workforce,” the lawmakers wrote.

The full letter can be found here.

Through her leadership on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Senator Shaheen is a leader in the Senate fighting for legislation and funding to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence. In the budget resolution passed in February, Shaheen successfully negotiated the inclusion of her amendment to provide support to organizations serving survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse, which cleared the Senate unanimously. In the final version of the American Rescue Plan, Shaheen secured funding to support these efforts.

Senator Shaheen has also led efforts in the Senate to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her bill, the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was signed into law in 2016 and created the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors and for the first time allowed survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Shaheen also introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act to build on the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act by incentivizing states to pass legislation that guarantees the survivors rights included in the federal legislation.