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Women majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields are subjected to sexual violence at higher rates than their non-STEM counterparts, a new Georgia State University study suggests. Additionally, it showed that women in STEM fields that have equal numbers of men and women—such as chemistry, biology and math—faced more sexual violence than those in disciplines that are not gender balanced. Women in gender-balanced STEM disciplines reported 3.4 times as many attempted rapes—not necessarily by the men in their department—as the average female undergraduate.
The study surveyed 318 undergraduate STEM majors at five U.S. institutions.
One of the study’s researchers said the results reflect the “backlash effect,” in which gender equality is associated with increased violence against women.
Nevertheless, further research is needed to understand why this pattern exists, the researchers said.
“This study demonstrates that the problem exists, but it doesn’t really explore the why. That’s really the next step in this line of research,” said co-author Leah Daigle, a professor in Georgia State’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, in a press release. “If you see an equal number of women and men in your classes, you might think that, by definition, the women are being treated fairly. But that’s not what our study shows. It should be a wake-up call for people to realize that even when people are not in the minority in a group, they can still be at risk for discrimination and harm.”