Investigators are being sent to US research base on Antarctica to look into sexual violence concerns

The oversight office for the National Science Foundation has decided to dispatch investigators to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, following reports of high rates of sexual violence at the American research facility.

The NSF, a government organization, stated that it is taking additional steps to deal with the widespread issue. On Friday, it revealed that Renée Ferranti will serve as a special assistant to the director, with a specific focus on preventing and addressing sexual assault and harassment.

In August, a report by the Associated Press revealed that women at McMurdo Station reported feeling that their reports of harassment or assault were not taken seriously by their employers, which put them and others at risk.

According to the AP, internal messages show that the NSF Office of Inspector General plans to send investigators on a site visit from Monday to November 17.

Lisa Vonder Haar, the chief of staff for the OIG, confirmed the visit in an email to the AP and stated that their investigative mission will now encompass criminal violations in Antarctica. These violations may include aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, and stalking.

According to Vonder Haar, their specialized agents have been addressing remote complaints from workers in Antarctica since July. They also have plans to establish a physical presence on the ice during upcoming summers.

The AP inquiry revealed that numerous women did not receive sufficient support from the personnel in charge of the Antarctic program. One woman even felt the need to have a hammer with her at all times for self-defense. Additionally, another woman who reported being groped by a coworker was still required to work with him.

In a separate incident, a female employee who disclosed being sexually assaulted was terminated after two months. Another woman reported that her superiors at the base downgraded her accusation from rape to harassment.

A report from NSF in 2022 revealed that 59% of women reported experiencing harassment or assault while on the ice. In certain instances, alcohol was a contributing factor.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced in October that alcohol service at the bars in McMurdo Station would be discontinued. However, employees are still able to purchase a weekly allocation of alcohol from the station’s store. The NSF clarified to the Associated Press that this decision was made to improve morale and welfare, and not as a means to prevent sexual harassment or assault.

On Friday, Sethuraman Panchanathan, the Director of NSF, expressed his excitement in welcoming Ferranti, a highly experienced individual with over 25 years of expertise in preventing sexual assault.

“Addressing this pervasive 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 evolving landscape of sexual assault prevention and response,” Panchanathan said in a statement.

Ferranti expressed her desire to have a significant influence on the advancement of NSF’s efforts to combat sexual violence.