In the icy wilderness of Antarctica, a chilling tale of rampant sexual harassment and assault emerged from the US McMurdo Station.
This research hub, operated by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is the largest community in Antarctica, housing up to 1,200 residents. However, beneath the scientific endeavors, a culture of sexual misconduct has reportedly taken root, casting a dark shadow over the ‘snow desert’.
The NSF has recently implemented a significant policy shift in response to these allegations. Starting Sunday, the sale of alcohol at the station’s bars will be halted. While this move may seem drastic, it’s important to understand the context.
The bars at McMurdo Station have been central to the social life of this isolated community. However, they’ve also been linked to the growing concerns about sexual misconduct.
As concerns over sexual misconduct at the main U.S. base in Antarctica grow, workers at McMurdo Station will no longer be able to walk into a bar and order a beer, after the federal agency overseeing the research program decided to stop serving alcohol. https://t.co/ymPfeI2aNI
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 28, 2023
Despite this, the NSF maintains that the changes involving alcohol are primarily ‘related to morale and welfare at the base’, and were not specifically aimed at preventing sexual harassment or assault.
Under the new rules, workers can only order alcohol-free drinks at McMurdo’s two main bars, Southern Exposure and Gallagher’s. They can still bring their own alcohol to drink at the bars, and a third venue, the Coffee House, will become entirely alcohol-free but will remain open for workers to visit any time of the day or night.
The rationing system allows Antarctic workers to buy up to the equivalent of 18 beers each week, or three bottles of wine, or a 750 milliliter (25 ounce) bottle of spirits. However, many victims of sexual harassment and assault at the base argue that this measure is insufficient and misguided.
Jennifer Sorensen, who alleges she was raped at McMurdo back in 2015, criticized the NSF’s approach. She argued the organization previously tried, without success, to blame alcohol for the high rates of sexual misconduct at the base.
Sorensen pointed out sexual assault often occurs even when neither party has been consuming alcohol, as was her case.
— Worldly (@worldlymap) September 28, 2023
Britt Barquis, another victim who was groped at McMurdo in 2017, echoed Sorensen’s sentiments, stating that there was ‘no alcohol involved’ in her incident. These testimonies highlight the need for more comprehensive measures to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault at the base.
The NSF is also implementing new measures specifically aimed at preventing sexual harassment and assault. This comes after a 2022 report showed that 59% of women had experienced harassment or assault while on the base, and 72% of women declared that such behavior was a problem in Antarctica.
While the alcohol ban may be a step in the right direction, it’s clear that more needs to be done to address the culture of sexual harassment and assault at McMurdo Station. The voices of victims like Sorensen and Barquis must be heard and taken into account as the NSF seeks to create a safer environment in this remote corner of the world.