Noted Anthropologist Investigated for Sexual Misconduct

February 10, 2016

Adding to the list of recent, high-profile sex assault allegations in the sciences, a new article in Science details a controversial case in anthropology. Brian Richmond, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, allegedly assaulted an unnamed museum research assistant at a conference in Italy in 2014, and the case went public at last year’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in St. Louis. The account triggered additional allegations of misconduct, and Richmond is now working off-site as the museum investigates the accusations against him. Richmond denied the assistant's allegations to Science, calling the encounter consensual.

The assistant says that after a night of drinking, she woke up in Richmond’s hotel room with him on top of her, kissing her and groping under her skirt. She says she could not have possibly given consent; he says he stopped as soon as she asked him to. The first of several museum investigations found that Richmond had violated a policy against relationships between supervisors and subordinates. The museum says it gave Richmond a “zero tolerance” warning, but he says he’s been asked to resign.

One of Richmond’s former mentors at George Washington University also launched an informal investigation into his colleague’s past, which yielded additional allegations of unwanted sexual advances from other women. As a result, Richmond resigned from the Koobi Fora Field School in Kenya, which is affiliated with George Washington. (The colleague, Bernard Wood, a professor of human origins at George Washington, says Richmond was told he was no longer welcome at Koobi Fora.) Richmond told Science that while other relationships in question have been consensual, “I regret that I was not sensitive to how my academic position could impact the dynamics of consensual relationships.”

In December, the Natural History Museum sent a memo to all staff saying that it had asked an outside firm to review its sexual harassment policies and roll out training. Science’s story recalls a widely cited 2014 survey of anthropologists suggesting widespread sexual misconduct at field sites, as well as a number of sexual misconduct cases in fields including astronomy.

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