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Results from the U.S. Antarctic Program’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Needs Assessment


August 25, 2022

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has Agency-wide policies and requirements to promote research environments that are free from sexual assault and sexual harassment. The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) presents a range of unique research environments that range from deep field camps to more populous stations with participants from many institutions and organizations.  Last April, NSF's Office of Polar Programs (OPP) enlisted subject matter experts to examine sexual harassment and sexual assault in the USAP Community and identify corrective actions for concerns revealed by interviews and surveys.    

The assessment, which consisted of surveys and interviews, concluded that, sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault are ongoing, continuing problems in the USAP community.  While multi-jurisdictional enforcement mechanisms across USAP create gaps that hinder response and prevention efforts, these gaps are compounded by a lack of trust among the contractor community in their employer’s human resource organizations and inadequate reporting and response mechanisms to NSF.  The assessment notes that leadership is committed to addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment and there are early indicators of initial progress; however, trust in leadership response to sexual assault and sexual harassment is low, and prevention infrastructure – including training, clear mechanisms for reporting, and evaluation of the efficacy of training and reporting – is lacking.  Finally, the team found that there is significant motivation within the USAP Community to engage in prevention efforts, despite currently insufficient opportunities to do so. 

These results present serious concerns. The USAP is grateful to those who engaged with the team to provide feedback and share their experiences, and we are committed to identifying and addressing the problems revealed by the assessment. The full assessment report can be found here.   

We see a critical need to 1) improve communication, 2) increase engagement, 3) enhance education and training, 4) strengthen reporting infrastructure and accountability, 5) provide support to victims, and 6) probe more deeply into policies and mechanisms aimed at prevention. We have already begun to take several initial steps: 

  • At the start of the upcoming research season, we will host a series of listening sessions facilitated by experts in the fields of sexual harassment prevention and response.  We will incorporate feedback from those sessions into a detailed plan for increasing opportunities for community feedback and engagement, including development of confidential pathways for reporting incidents.   
  • We intend to revamp our screening, and training, to leverage best practices in the field of prevention, response, and sexual assault/harassment education.  We will emphasize creation of a positive culture in which harassment and assault are considered completely unacceptable.
  • We are identifying ways to provide additional support, both on and off the ice, to victims of sexual assault and harassment.  

For information on confidential sexual assault victim services, you can visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website at: https://www.nsvrc.org/find-help. For a directory of sexual assault victim service providers see: https://www.nsvrc.org/organizations. 

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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