New Bill Aims to Stop Sexual Harassment in STEM

Presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and a group of Democrats introduced a bill to combat sexual harassment in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 was announced on Thursday, April 4 and will “examine policies to reduce harassment, and encourage interagency efforts” in the STEM field, according to Harris’ press release. The bill follows a study published last year, which noted that 58 percent of women in STEM said they had been sexually harassed, the release stated.

Harris, whose mother was involved in STEM as a breast cancer researcher, said in a statement that she understands “the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field.” The senator said the bill would make sure women working in STEM have a safe workplace environment so everyone can “achieve their full potential.” "As the daughter of a barrier-breaking woman in STEM research, I know the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field," Harris said in the release. "As more women enter STEM fields, we must do more to ensure appropriate steps are taken to change the workplace climate and prevent sexual harassment. By shining a light on sexual harassment in STEM, this legislation is a step in the right direction to fostering an environment across STEM where everyone is safe and able to achieve their full potential.”

The bill will create a new program through the National Science Foundation to understand and combat sexual harassment in STEM fields. It will also authorize $17.4 million annually to fund its research.

The co-sponsors of Harris’ new bill include Senators Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), and Minnesota’s Tina Smith. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are also in the 2020 race, have co-sponsored the bill. In a statement, Rosen noted that sexual harassment can be an even larger issue in the male-dominated STEM field.

“Sexual harassment is an issue that affects every type of workplace – and it’s especially pervasive in academia and among those working in the sciences,” Rosen said. “This legislation will take much needed steps to address this issue by directing the Office of Science and Technology Policy to issue uniform sexual harassment policies that will help empower survivors to come out from the shadows and share their stories.”

The bill is an amended version of US Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s bill, which was introduced to Congress in January. In a statement from the press release, Johnson said she is glad to see her colleagues introduce a companion bill. “Sexual harassment in the academic workplace undermines the contributions of women in critical STEM fields and drives talented scientists away from careers in research,” said Johnson. “Our nation’s scientific and technological leadership depends on ensuring our best and brightest are able to conduct their research free of harassment and abuse.... We must do more to empower and protect our increasingly diverse scientific workforce and this bill is an important step in that direction.”

The bill has also been supported by the Association for Women Geoscientists, the Society of Women Engineers, the Association for Women in Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society, among other groups.

The Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace (BE HEARD) Act was also introduced to stop sexual harassment and discrimination, Vox reported. The bill was unveiled by Washington Senator Patty Murray on Tuesday, along with US Representatives Katherine Clark and Ayanna Pressley, according to a press release. A number of 2020 presidential candidates — including Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders — signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.