Takeaways from the Associated Press investigation into sexual harassment and assault at McMurdo Station in Antarctica

Christchurch, New Zealand (AP) — Many women who work at McMurdo Station, the United States’ main research base in Antarctica, say the isolated environment and macho culture have allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish.

The National Science Foundation, which oversees the US Antarctic program, published a report in 2022 in which 59% of women said they had been harassed or assaulted while on the ice.

But the problem goes beyond the harassment itself, the Associated Press found. In reviewing court records and internal communications, and in interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, The Associated Press revealed a pattern of women who said their employers minimized their allegations of harassment or assault, often resulting in them or others being in further danger.

Several workers in Antarctica have spoken publicly about their experiences to the Associated Press for the first time.

Grab the hammer

So I grabbed a hammer and kept it on it the whole time.

“If he came anywhere close to me, I would start swinging at him,” Monahon said.

The man later left Antarctica.

Pattern of problems

Monahoon’s case was not an anomaly. Two months later, the woman was expelled.

In another case, a woman reported being groped by a man in a senior position, and said she was forced to work with him again.

Another woman said she was raped, but her employers misclassified the incident as harassment.

Agencies response

And the NSF said it improved safety in Antarctica last year. It now requires Leidos, the main contractor, to immediately report incidents of sexual assault and harassment. The NSF said it has also set up an office to handle such complaints, provided confidential victim counsel, and set up a 24-hour helpline.

Leidos told Congress in December that it would install peepholes on bedroom doors, restrict access to master switches that can unlock multiple bedrooms, and give teams in the field an additional satellite phone.

But complaints of violence did not stop at the NSF report. Five months after its release, a woman in McMurdo said she was assaulted by a colleague. His trial is scheduled for November.

Monahon said she hopes her story will prompt contractors in Antarctica to face more accountability in the future.

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