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Grand Canyon Reports Of Sexual Assault Are Not Isolated Cases


A federal investigation this month unveiled a long history of sexual harassment at the Grand Canyon. According to a report by the Office of the Inspector General, male National Park Service employees at the Grand Canyon have preyed on their female co-workers for years. Laurel Morales of member station KJZZ has more from Flagstaff.

And please be aware this story contains descriptions that some listeners may find disturbing.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: Miles below the rim of the Grand Canyon, on river trips lasting weeks at a time, teams of National Park Service workers manage public safety and the canyon's wildlife. Often, satellite phones are their only connection to the outside world.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That's one of the beauties of it, is that you're in a wilderness environment and you are isolated, and you feel completely removed from the world.

MORALES: This is one of the women who filed a complaint with the inspector general's office.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: But when you're starting to talk about feeling unsafe, it did feel very scary to know that you are basically stuck in a situation.

MORALES: An intern at the time, she told the inspector general a boatman put a camera up her skirt and took a picture. A supervisor on the trip reported the incident and suspended the boatman. That intern, now a biologist, says on the same night, a second boatman threatened another woman with an ax, yelling profanities.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Basically, things to the effect of you need to keep your mouth shut, you need to not report this. There was alcohol involved, and I think that that amped up the situation indeed. But that was a very terrifying moment.

MORALES: The names of the accusers have been redacted from the inspector general's report. And because the assaults were sexual in nature, we are not using their names. National Park Service spokesman James Doyle says as a result of the inspector general's report, the Grand Canyon will be making many changes in coming months.

JAMES DOYLE: This is absolutely unacceptable to us on every level, and we're working, starting now, to change the culture there.

MORALES: Thirteen people sent a letter to the Interior Department in 2014, detailing a long-standing culture of sexual harassment and hostility. Doyle says when the Park Service first learned of the investigation, it banned alcohol from park river trips. But that won't solve the problem, says another complainant, a river ranger at the park for five years. When her incident occurred, she and another government employee were on duty - sober, in the middle of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He exposed his genitalia to me and then propositioned me for sex. There were three supervisors on that trip. And I went and told, like, a supervisor what happened, and he didn't do anything.

MORALES: She says she didn't make a formal complaint at the time, fearing retaliation. The inspector general's report confirms that when women refused advances or complained, they were shamed, denied food on trips or simply ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's appalling. I mean, there needs to be some sort of larger reform about how, you know, this system could repeatedly fail over and over again.

MORALES: The inspector general's report says the Park Service did take action in some cases. They issued written reprimands to some employees and suspended or fired others. One of the accused, called Boatman 3 in the report, says he only had sex on trips when women consented. In addition to the 13 whistleblowers, the report found 22 other Grand Canyon employees who say they witnessed or experienced sexual harassment and hostile work environments.

For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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