Investigators from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General are being dispatched to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station following reports of sexual violence at the U.S. research base. The NSF has also announced the appointment of Renée Ferranti, a sexual assault prevention specialist, as the new special assistant to the agency’s director. Ferranti will focus on sexual assault and harassment prevention and response.
According to a recent NSF report, 59 percent of women at the McMurdo Station reported experiencing harassment or assault while on the base. A subsequent investigation revealed that some women felt their sexual harassment claims were downplayed, putting them and others at further risk.
The NSF Office of Inspector General will send investigators to Antarctica from Monday through November 17 to address the ongoing situation. The investigators will look into criminal violations, including aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, and stalking.
In late September, staff members at the McMurdo Station were prohibited from buying alcohol at bars, although they could still purchase a weekly ration from the station store. The change was implemented to boost morale and welfare, not specifically to prevent sexual harassment or assault, according to the NSF.
The McMurdo Station had previously announced measures aimed at preventing sexual harassment. The 2022 report indicated that 72 percent of female respondents and 48 percent of male respondents believed sexual assault was a problem at the base.
Sethuraman Panchanathan, the NSF director, stated that addressing the issue of sexual assault remains a top priority for the agency. He expressed confidence in Ferranti’s expertise and emphasized the agency’s commitment to adapting and accelerating efforts in sexual assault prevention and response.