The APA has today issued an important open letter on sexual harassment. If you’ve ever tried to get a large number of people (especially philosophers!) sign up to a shared statement, you’ll know just how difficult a task this is. This is an enormous step forward. Here is how the letter begins:
This is an open letter, addressed first and foremost to victims of sexual harassment within the profession of philosophy, and secondly, to all members of the APA.
Some of you have come forward and pressed complaints against your harassers, assuming the burden of embarking on a time-consuming and psychologically draining process. Some of you have reached out to the APA ombudsperson for resources and advice. Some of you have consulted officers at your institutions, and some of you have relied on supportive friends or colleagues. Some of you are silent victims. Many of you have not received adequate support from your colleagues and redress from your institutions. All of you, we assume, have had both your personal and your professional lives deeply affected by your experiences. These effects are likely to endure for years to come.
The damaging experience is not limited to the sexual harassment itself. Some of you have seen your harasser given what does not seem to be a penalty—for example, a paid leave of absence. Others have seen your harasser evade penalties by taking a new job. Some of you have not been believed, had complaints ignored or trivialized, and been treated as though it is you who is the problem. All of you who remain in the discipline of philosophy face the prospect of encountering your harasser in professional philosophical settings whether at your academic institution or at philosophical conferences.
Inside Higher Ed has a very good story on the letter. Here’s Ruth Chang, in that story, commenting on it:
Ruth Chang, APA ombudsperson for nondiscrimination and a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, said victims often experience a sense of isolation, escalated by “callous and insensitive remarks in the blogosphere that range from implying that the victim is a liar, to victim blaming, to insensitive discussions of a particular case in the terms of some abstract principle,” such as academic freedom or due process. While those principles may be deserving of debate, it shouldn’t be done in the context of particular cases, she said. Doing so — likely without all the facts — “unfairly impugns” the integrity of someone who’s already been seriously aggrieved.
Beyond expressing solidarity with victims, Chang said the board wanted to express a “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment and encourage members to take an active role in supporting victims and reporting inappropriate behavior.
The letter also potentially puts harassers on watch.
“It’s not OK to kid yourself into thinking that, because you haven’t got into trouble before, what you’re doing is OK,” Chang said. “Times are changing. And if the profession is going to get better, people need to keep up.”