This letter is to alert the community to ongoing online harassment by a registered sex offender who targets individuals in geomorphology and related fields. This has been a problem for many years. The offender, who has an Earth Science degree and self-identifies as a geomorphologist, has spent time in prison on charges of attempted sexual assault. To our knowledge, more than 80 women have received hostile, sexually explicit, or threatening emails. Some of these emails include pornographic videos. He is also known to target senior researchers, including men, describing his scientific ideas and critiquing established concepts and well-known publications in the field. He is currently not associated with any academic, government, or private-sector institutions.
Harassment and intimidating behavior of any kind, whether it be in person or online, is not acceptable. Harassment due to sex and gender are prohibited in the U.S. Due to the online and interstate nature of this harassment, legal redress has proven difficult. The emails come from different email addresses, which makes it difficult to block accounts. Advice from campus police forces have been contradictory, in some cases advising women to delete their professional websites and contact information from the internet. This is not only difficult but has the insidious effect of further marginalizing women from the field.
Because of the pervasive nature of the harassing communications, it is imperative that all members of the geomorphology and related fields are aware of the problem and acknowledge that female graduate students, postdocs, and senior scientists are being preferentially targeted. We hope that open and public recognition will alert new women in the field who may receive these harassing emails with no warning, or who may have been receiving them and felt threatened and isolated. You are not alone in this experience. We believe you, support you, and want you to remain a part of our community. Senior scientists should recognize that their own students may be (or may become) targets of these hostile emails and recognize that this harassment can affect professional performance and personal wellbeing.
The community should work together to provide support for those who are experiencing this and other forms of harassment and to seek long-term solutions so that everyone can participate and engage fully as scientists.
If you have been affected by this online harassment we suggest taking the following steps:
- Report the incidents to your campus or local police.
- Document the harassment by saving all emails. Consider setting up a filter so that these emails bypass your inbox and go directly to a designated folder.
- Forward these emails to geomorph.harassment AT gmail.com. As we seek more permanent solutions, it is helpful to have documentation of the scope of this problem. This inbox has been set up to serve as a clearinghouse for these harassing emails. If you have received these emails and want more information about the situation, contact this address to be connected with someone. Leaders in the community have agreed to monitor this inbox.
- If you are comfortable doing so, consider responding to the harassing emails with a short statement such as, “These are inappropriate emails. Do not contact me in any way in the future.” In at least one known case, this led to a several-year hiatus in contact.
- Your campus or healthcare provider are good places for counseling and mental health and wellness support. Initiatives such as HeartMob, by the organization Hollaback!, provide additional resources for supporting targets, educating communities, and mobilizing activists and can be found online at: https://iheartmob.org/
The offender’s name and identifying information have been purposefully omitted.