Late-night research, isolation and a strict, male-dominated hierarchy are the perfect conditions for sexual harassment. With colleges struggling to enforce conduct codes, what can be done?

Lois, a medical researcher, endured more than five years of sexual harassment during her postgraduate study at a leading UK university. It started when she worked on a project between her MSc and PhD. The professor overseeing the research bombarded her and the other women in the group of junior researchers with crude and humiliating sexual comments.

“He said I looked so sexy in overalls that he had to resist the urge to rip them off me. One day it was raining and he came in wet and he announced that, him being our boss, he should make us dry him with our naked bodies,” she recalls. Sometimes she would scream to block out the lewd comments; on other occasions she and her female colleagues would “leave the room and lock ourselves in a bathroom before going back to work”. She adds: “Sometimes he would make a comment about someone’s arse, and you’d respond by not paying any attention; but sometimes when it was particularly bad you’d have to walk away.”

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