A recent report by the National Science Foundation (NSF) reveals that 59% of women working at the United States research center in Antarctica have experienced harassment or assault. The study also indicates that 72% of women consider such behavior to be a prevalent issue in the region. However, an investigation conducted by The Associated Press (AP) has uncovered a disturbing pattern of women claiming that their reports of harassment or assault were downplayed by their employers, putting them and others at further risk.
The AP’s review of court records, internal communications, and interviews with over a dozen current and former employees reveals instances where women who reported incidents of harassment or assault were forced to work alongside their perpetrators or were subsequently terminated. In one case, a woman who reported being groped by a colleague was made to continue working with him. Another woman, who disclosed being sexually assaulted, was later fired. Additionally, a female employee stated that her allegations of rape were downgraded to harassment by her superiors.
The NSF report prompted a Congressional investigation. Leidos, the prime contractor, claimed to have received “zero allegations” of misconduct in Antarctica over a five-year period ending in April 2022. However, internal emails contradict this statement. Kathleen Naeher, the chief operating officer of the civil group at Leidos, testified before a congressional committee in December, outlining proposed measures such as installing peepholes on dorm room doors, limiting access to master keys, and providing teams in the field with an extra satellite phone. These proposed solutions were met with criticism from Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., who expressed astonishment that such measures were not implemented prior to sending personnel to Antarctica.
The AP’s investigation includes testimonies from several individuals, including Liz Monahon, a mechanic at McMurdo Station. Monahon, who carried a hammer for self-defense due to fears for her safety, believes she only escaped physical harm because of her colleagues, not the management. Another incident involved Stephen Bieneman, who allegedly pinned a woman down and placed his shin on her throat, impeding her ability to breathe. Bieneman has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault and is scheduled for trial in November.
It is important to note that the majority of the individuals quoted in this article are speaking publicly for the first time. The isolated environment and macho culture at the U.S. Antarctic Research Center have created an environment where sexual harassment and assault can thrive, leaving women feeling compelled to fend for themselves.