Researchers head to research base in Antarctica after reports of sexual violence | ET REALITY

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The National Science Foundation’s independent monitor is sending researchers to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, who are due to arrive Monday after a report last year raised concerns about sexual assault and harassment at a U.S. research base.

The foundation’s Office of Inspector General will send two people to the remote station for about two weeks to prepare “for a future on-site presence in Antarctica and meet with staff to explain our role,” said Lisa Vonder Haar, chief of office staff. she said in an email.

McMurdo Station, the main US station in Antarctica, can accommodate more than 1,000 workers during the summer season. according to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency that supports scientific research and education. In winter, the population peaks at about 220 people.

The station has an urban infrastructure that includes dormitories, a fire station, utility plants and shops. Scientists there investigation glaciers, wildlife, climate change and other topics.

Last year, a National Science Foundation report found that many members of the Antarctic program said sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking were problems in the program.

He June 2022 The report was based on interviews, online surveys and focus groups with people at McMurdo Station and other research sites and field work sites in Antarctica.

These research sites are isolated and co-workers live in close quarters, which the report said “creates complicated dynamics that blur the boundaries between personal and professional lives.”

In October 2022, the foundation’s Office of Inspector General initiated an independent inspection of the U.S. Antarctic Program’s sexual harassment and assault prevention and response.

The office has had special agents responding remotely to complaints from Antarctic research station workers since July and is “working to have an on-site presence during future southern summer seasons,” Vonder Haar said.

He said the Office of Inspector General has also been strengthening its ability to investigate sexual assaults, including by sending trained special agents to Antarctica after a sexual assault.

Ms. Vonder Haar said the deputy inspector general for investigations and a special agent who has investigated sexual assaults in remote settings would be at the investigative station from Monday to Nov. 17, barring weather delays.

About a year after the foundation published its internal report, The Associated Press published research that said the “isolated environment and sexist culture” at McMurdo station had allowed sexual assault and harassment to flourish. The investigation was based on court records, internal communications and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees of the research base.

The 2022 report said that in focus groups, 59 percent of women said they had had a negative experience with sexual assault or sexual harassment. Of these women, 95 percent knew someone who had experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment on the program, according to the report.

The report included excerpts from interviews with workers, whose names were not named, including a woman who said that on her first day at McMurdo Station, she was told “to stay away from Building (X) unless she wanted to be raped.”

Another interviewee said that women in McMurdo sometimes carried tools, such as a hammer, or other items to use as weapons, because they did not believe that anyone was looking out for their safety.

The report said there was a “widely shared perception” among those interviewed that victims would be punished for reporting sexual misconduct and that perpetrators would be allowed to keep their jobs or even receive promotions.

The report also found that a prevention system was “almost absent” and that resources were concentrated on the response.

In addition to the researchers’ trip to Antarctica, the foundation announced Thursday which had appointed Renée Ferranti as special assistant to the director of the foundation for the prevention and implementation of responses to sexual assault and harassment.

She will evaluate existing policies, advise on resource allocation and recommend organizational improvements, the agency said.

Foundation director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement that the work was a “critical role as NSF continues to strengthen our efforts to promote safe research environments for all.”

“Addressing this widespread problem remains a top priority for me and the agency, and with Renée’s expertise we will continue to adapt and further accelerate our efforts to address the changing landscape of sexual assault prevention and response,” he said.

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