News Violence

Guttmacher Institute Fires Vice President Over Allegations of ‘Inappropriate Sexual Behavior’

Jodi Jacobson

Dr. Lawrence B. Finer, a widely known researcher and policy analyst, was fired from the Guttmacher Institute after an internal investigation found he had "engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior" toward a number of current and former Institute employees.

The Guttmacher Institute, an internationally recognized research and policy organization devoted to evidence-based analysis of reproductive and sexual health, announced the dismissal today of Dr. Lawrence B. Finer, vice president for domestic research, after an internal investigation found Finer had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior” against a number of current and former employees.

Finer, who has a Ph.D. in population dynamics from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, has long been widely recognized and lauded for his work on abortion and contraception and has considerable influence in the academic and policy circles of global public health.

In a statement on Finer’s termination, Guttmacher Institute Board Chair Mary Shallenberger and President and CEO Ann Starrs said:

The Guttmacher Institute has a longstanding commitment to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. But within our own organization, we are confronting the reality that we have failed to protect our staff as we work toward that guiding principle. For that, we apologize. Through an internal investigation with guidance from our legal counsel, it has become clear that a member of our senior staff, Dr. Lawrence B. Finer, has engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior against a number of current and former Institute employees. We have put an end to this unacceptable behavior and are taking concrete steps to prevent it from happening again.

On June 15, we received an anonymous report of sexual harassment against Dr. Finer via a member of our Board of Directors. Dr. Finer was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a comprehensive investigation. Based on what the investigation has uncovered, we terminated his employment on June 22.

Shortly after receiving the statement from Guttmacher, Rewire.News was contacted by four different women about their experiences with Finer. Two of the women described being “groomed” by Finer for sexual relationships, and referred to his behavior generally as inappropriate and “creepy.” One woman said colleagues told her Finer was known for going after younger women “at work and at conferences” and was well known in the field for focusing attention on younger women just starting out in their careers: flattering, pursuing, and eventually seeking intimate relationships with them.

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None are willing to be identified because, as each offered independently, they are fearful of the professional consequences of speaking out against Finer publicly at this time.

One person expressed deep frustration with the process at Guttmacher, writing in an email: Staff feel that leadership acted quickly in firing Larry Finer only after they knew it was likely to go public.”

In its own statement, Guttmacher concedes it may not initially have acted quickly or thoroughly enough: “There were rumors of inappropriate conduct, and a formal, separate complaint was made against this individual earlier this year. While we believed at the time that we had resolved the complaint adequately, we now know that the actions we took were not nearly enough to address the problem.”

Starrs sent an email to the staff on Friday, which was shared with Rewire.News:

We have scheduled an all-staff meeting for Monday, and more information will be shared at that time. At this point, I want to focus on the following: first, on my own behalf and on that of the Management Team, I offer my profound apology to the current and former staff, as well as external colleagues, who were harmed by Larry’s actions. I cannot express to you how sorry I am for what you experienced, and that we failed to create an environment in which you felt you could share your experiences with the organization’s leadership. I thank those of you who did so during this investigation.

Second, I apologize for the fact that we did not take action much earlier. That we were not aware of the scope and nature of his behavior is not an excuse; it is our responsibility to create and maintain an institutional culture where misconduct of this nature is not tolerated, and where those who have been subject to harassment and other misconduct feel that they can speak up about what they have experienced, be confident that they will be listened to and believed, and know that appropriate action will be taken.

The official statement closes by saying: “To those who have come forward to recount their experiences, we thank you, we hear you, we believe you, and we apologize deeply for letting you down. We urge anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct by any current or former Institute staff member to contact us; any information provided will be handled with absolute respect and confidentiality. Our goal is to do right by the victims of this behavior and to restore the trust of our staff, our donors, our colleagues and all those who rely on Guttmacher’s work.”

Phone calls and emails reaching out to Finer for comment were not returned by the time of publication.

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