Analyzing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education (Part 1)

2017 has taught us a lot. Among the many lessons, it has taught us (or maybe more accurately, reminded most of us) that sexual harassment is rampant. While Hollywood and politicians are most heavily under fire at this moment, to think that sexual harassment doesn’t happen in one’s own discipline would simply be naive. As an academic, I was happy to hear that The Chronicle of Higher Education was looking into cases of sexual harassment in higher education to hopefully change the field for the better.

In addition to hearing victim’s stories, as a data scientist, I personally wanted data to get an idea of just how wide-spread sexual harassment is in the academic world. As such, I am indebted to Dr. Karen Kelsky, for writing the survey used to accumulate the data for this analysis. Here, I have included a first-pass analysis of this survey response data on “Sexual Harassment in the Academy”. The impetus for this survey was discussed by its author, Karen Kelsky, Ph.D. in the form of a blog post on on December 1st, 2017. The data analyzed here includes all responses to the survey entered before 12:40 EST on December 11th, 2017. Code for analysis and plots can be found on GitHub.

Responses Over Time

There were 1,567 responses over the course of ~10 days. Let me repeat that: more than 1,500 responses to a blog post in 10 days.

<img src="/blog/Sexual_Harassment/response.png", width = “90%”, height = “90%">

What Was the Gender of the Harasser?

In response to the question “What Was the Gender of the Harasser?”, there were 1520 responses with 17 unique responses, all of which are plotted below. Among these responses, 1391 harrassers (91.5% of respondents) were reported to be male and 83 (5.4%) were reported to be female .

<img src="/blog/Sexual_Harassment/gender.png”, width = “90%”, height = “90%">

What Was Your Status When the Incident(s) Happened?

In response to the question “What Was Your Status When the Incident(s) Happened?”, there were 857 unique responses. I cleaned up these responses by combining similar responses with different capitalizationsor abbreviations and found the three most frequent responses were “graduate student”,“phd stduent”, and “undergraduate student.”

status n
1 graduate student 281
2 phd student 93
3 undergraduate student 87
4 assistant professor 67
5 student 34
6 phd candidate 15
7 postdoc 14
8 masters student 13
9 adjunct 7
10 first year graduate student 7
11 full professor 6
12 adjunct instructor 5
13 ma student 5
14 professor 5
15 student 5

Since this does not include everyone, I have attempted to categorize these these responses at a higher level. Here I have combined responses to consider only four categories: students, professors, instructors, and other.

<img src="/blog/Sexual_Harassment/status.png”, width = “90%”, height = “90%">

Here we see that survey participants were most frequently students when the incident(s) happened. (Note: postdocs do not exist in every field. Their small number likely reflects this fact in both this graph and the graph below.)

What Was the Status of the Perpetrator(s)…Particularly relative to you?

perpetrator n
1 professor 56
2 full professor 40
3 tenured professor 30
4 professor 20
5 graduate student 17
6 associate professor 16
7 phd student 11
8 assistant professor 10
9 tenured faculty 10
10 undergraduate student 10
11 department chair 7
12 senior faculty 7
13 student 7
14 tenured faculty 7
15 assistant professor 6

Summarizing these data into the same four categories, it becomes quite clear that the harasser is most frequently an individual in a position of power.

<img src="/blog/Sexual_Harassment/perp.png”, width = “90%”, height = “90%">

What Type of Institution Was It?

When reporting the type of institution, survey participants reported experiencing sexual harassment at all types of institutions. While we could focus on the relative values, I’ll note that there are not the same numbers of institutions/agencies in each category. Further, there is likely some selection bias in those who have responded to the survey. For these two reasons, raw numbers likely don’t tell the whole story. However, what we can conclude from these data is sexual harassment occurs across the board.

<img src="/blog/Sexual_Harassment/institution.png”, width = “90%”, height = “90%">

Institutional Responses to the Harassment…If any?

There are 1,004 unique responses to this question, with at least 202 respondents reporting that nothing was done in response by their institution. This is unacceptable, and we must do better. In addition, there are at least 93 responses who did not report the harassment. I applaud these indivduals for sharing now. (To those who have shared here for the first time, you don’t owe your story to anyone, but I appreciate your strength in sharing now. Thank you.) Three reported their report led to a Title IX invesitation. Three were not sure of the response. The remaining 982 responses are full of heart-wrenching stories. Take a look through the responses. Individual stories matter. n
1 None 128
2 none 46
3 Not reported 22
4 Did not report 15
5 None. 13
6 not reported 8
7 did not report 7
8 I did not report 6
9 None 6
10 Didn't report 5
11 I did not report it 5
12 I didn't report it 5
13 I didn't report it. 5
14 Never reported 5
15 None. 5
16 I didn't report it. 4
17 Nothing 4
18 Title IX investigation 3
19 unknown 3
20 Did not report 2
21 Didn't report 2
22 Didn’t report 2

Your Field/Discipline

Survey participants came from 463 unique fields. Participants most frequently reported to be in the fields of ‘english’, ‘history’, and ‘sociology’. However, as noted above, there is likely selection bias of participants. Rather than focusing in on any one field, the conclusion to draw here is that people are from many different fields.

field n
1 english 124
2 history 99
3 sociology 49
4 humanities 32
5 music 31
6 political science 31
7 psychology 31
8 biology 29
9 philosophy 27
10 anthropology 25
11 creative writing 17
12 english 17
13 history 17
14 literature 17
15 education 16


  • There is a lot of sexual harassment.
  • 91.5% of harassers were reported to be male.
  • Victims are most frequently students.
  • Harassers were most frequently individuals in positions of power.
  • Institutions frequently fail to respond to reports of sexual harassment.
  • Sexual harassment occurs across many fields and across all types of institutions.

Update (Dec 14th, 2017 at 9:36PM EST): Given Kristian Lum’s recent piece ‘Statistics, we have a problem’, I wanted to quickly update this post. As of today, there are 1,747 responses. 206 of these responses mention the word “conference” in either their response to “What Happened and When?” or “Other Comments you’d like to add.” 11.8% of responses mention conferences.

Thank you

  • Thank you to everyone who shared their story. You’re making a difference.
  • Thank you to Karen Kelsky, PhD for using her platform to help victims find a safe way to anonymously report sexual harassment. And, thank you for making these data available.


As with all analyses, there are limitations to the interpretation of these data. As mentioned in the post, there is selection bias in who responded to the survey. Participants likely do not perfectly represent academia. While not limited to individuals who follow Dr. Kelsky’s blog, her readership likely influences who participated in this survey. Thus, while we cannot interpret these data to conclude in which field sexual harassment is most frequent, we can conclude that sexual harassment is wide-spread across many fields and read the stories of the participants who participated. Additionally, I pulled these data while the survey was still running. Values will likely change over time as a result. Finally, these are self-reported data, which have not been independently verified.


This is Part 1 of my analysis of these data. I plan to analyze people’s stories and free text responses in more detail than I would have been able to do so sufficiently for a first blog post. If someone else beats me to this, awesome. The faster we are able to help victims of sexual harassment and understand how widespread this is in academia, the better.