The management office that oversees the US National Science Foundation sent researchers to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica after receiving complaints about sexual violence rampant at the US scientific research base.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) indicated that it is stepping up its own efforts to address this “pervasive problem” within the federal agency. The appointment of Renée Ferranti as special assistant to the director of the NSF to focus on sexual abuse and harassment prevention and response was announced Friday.
An Associated Press investigation in August found that women in McMurdo said their complaints of harassment or assault were downplayed by their employers, often putting them at greater risk.
Internal communications obtained by the AP indicate that the NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG) will send investigators to remain at the base from next Monday until November 17.
“We are in the process of expanding our investigative mission to include the investigation of criminal violations occurring in Antarctica,” OIG Chief of Staff Lisa Vonder Haar wrote in an email to the AP confirming the visit. “These offenses include aggravated sexual abuse, simple sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and harassment.”
Vonder Haar said his agents have been responding remotely to complaints from female workers in Antarctica since July and he plans to have a presence there in the coming summers.
The AP investigation highlights the lack of support many women feel from management of the Antarctic program. A woman feels obligated to carry a hammer at all times to protect herself. Another woman reported that she was forced to work with a man who groped her.
In another case, a woman who told her boss that she was sexually assaulted was fired two months later. A fourth woman said base commanders downgraded her rape allegations to harassment.
The 2022 NSF report found that 59% of women said they had experienced harassment or assault while at the station. Alcohol consumption is a factor in some cases.