A rowdy frat-boy culture, where staff drink too much out of penis-shaped straws, twerk, have sex riverside, and women can expect to be pressured into sex, groped, or illicitly photographed. This is what the Grand Canyon National Park is like these days, a new report has concluded.
And it’s been that way for 15 years, a free-for-all frame of mind encapsulated in the words of one human resources official.
“What happens on the river, stays on the river.”
The report that makes these astonishing conclusions was issued by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General, the Associated Press reported. An investigation into sex abuse at the Grand Canyon begun after 13 former and current employees came forward to complain about ongoing sexual harassment.
The probe found plentiful evidence of a “long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment” at the River District, which manages the park. Grand Canyon staff provide emergency and medical services and guide researchers, politicians, and students on river trips.
The environment is ripe for misbehavior, and the report hinted that alcohol played a major role. Grand Canyon National Park manages 280 miles of the Colorado River, where people work in isolated stretches of wild country, cut off from the rest of the world, and camping and rafting are part of the job. A satellite phone is available only for emergencies.
Even worse: When the harassed and abused women returned to civilization and reported the men’s behavior, the men weren’t punished. The women have been, however, in “ways that they said were retaliatory for coming forward,” the Hill reported.
This frat-boy culture was kept secret from the Grand Canyon’s highest officials, and whenever an incident of abuse or harassment was reported to superiors, they didn’t investigate. A report did find that a dozen people have been disciplined for sexual misconduct since 2003 — from a written warning to being fired — but the punishments were scarce and inconsistent.
At least one Grand Canyon employee, who quit after he was repeatedly punished for sexual harassment and misconduct, got a job elsewhere in the agency. He even volunteered on a 2010 trip, despite his past indiscretions.
“Supervisors and managers are failing in their management responsibilities and they should be removed. The culture of overlooking and even rewarding bad behavior is inexcusable,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “Congress must enact meaningful reforms to weed out those who can’t or won’t do their jobs.”
The report outlines several specific cases of abuse and harassment, although no one is named.
It all began when 13 women wrote to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, accusing male park employees of propositioning them for sex, groping them, and making bawdy comments, the report detailed. In one case, a male staffer took a photo up a female co-worker’s skirt. The 13 women whose letter prompted the probe said females had been consistently abused since 2000.
The report outlined their allegations, which seem to be lodged against four men who, during weeks-long boating trips on the Colorado River, pressured women into having sex with them, or dedicated the trips to inappropriate touching and sexual comments.
And according to the report, “in addition to the 13 original complainants, we identified 22 other individuals who reported experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment and hostile work environments while working in the River District.”
Grand Canyon officials, who have a zero tolerance policy of such behavior, have tried to change this frat-boy culture, barring consumption of alcohol at any time during river trips; until 2014, staff could drink during trips on off hours. And now, trip managers can kick out people who are being inappropriate.
Grand Canyon officials are considering other changes.
[Image via mundoview/Shutterstock]