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National Park Service employees who conduct trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon have been engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment for years, led by boatmen who try to “get laid as much as possible,” according to a new inspector general report.
Several members of the Grand Canyon National Park’s (GRCA) River District team, who take about 12 trips a year for research, monitoring programs, and clean up missions, have been accused of repeatedly propositioning fellow female employees and contractors for sex.
“The River District has a history of reported incidents of sexual harassment and hostile work environments against its employees,” the Department of Interior’s inspector general said in an audit released Tuesday. “Many of these incidents allegedly occurred during river trips.”
The report lists allegations of inappropriate behavior dating back to 2003, including a supervisor grabbing a female’s crotch, and drunken “twerking” parties during the river trips, which can last for weeks at a time.
Managers were also accused of not responding appropriately to complaints and having an attitude of “what happens on the river, stays on the river.”
A current boatman, who was described by a supervisor as a known “womanizer” who propositioned women during river trips, has never been disciplined. He was allegedly found lying next to a passed-out woman with his pants down. In another incident, he allegedly drunkenly yelled at a woman while wielding an axe.
“We found evidence of a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment in the GRCA River District,” the inspector general said. “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.”
The investigation involved interviews with more than 80 potential victims, witnesses, and suspects, the inspector general said. The report focused on one boatman currently employed, two former boatmen, and a former supervisor.
A fellow male employee said that the men “all tried to ‘get laid as much as possible’ during river trips and that there was ‘some sort of wager . . . or challenge between the three of them . . . to see who would get laid the most.’”
The current boatman was accused of behaving in a “threatening manner” toward a female employee for “yelling at her while holding an axe—while he was intoxicated,” during a 2005 trip.
Former employees said the current boatman would “behave in a hostile manner if [his] advances toward women were rejected.” He was accused of refusing to provide food to female employees after they rejected him on a 2006 river trip. The boatman also was accused of asking female employees for massages and of inappropriately touching a female Park Service volunteer’s thigh.
Another employee said she suspected the boatman “might have taken sexual advantage of an intoxicated woman during a 2008 river trip.”
“She said that the woman, whom she declined to identify, became intoxicated in camp one night and fell asleep,” the report said. “Later in the evening, [the employee] observed [the boatman] lying next to the woman, who was still asleep. When [the employee] asked him what he was doing, she said, he stood up, buckled his pants, and walked away.”
The boatman denied the allegations but “did acknowledge having sex with women during river trips, but said that the sex was consensual and only occurred while he was off duty.”
“He also acknowledged making sexual remarks to women, but said that he did so only when he sensed a ‘mutual attraction,’” the inspector general said.
The supervisor was described as a “classic bully.” One employee said he “spit beer on a woman’s head during a river trip,” and he was suspended for grabbing a female’s crotch and buttocks against her will.
The supervisor also was accused of making inappropriate comments to women. When asked by a female employee what she could do to contribute on a river trip he allegedly replied “she could help him by being ‘naked in [the] motor well’ of his boat.”
The supervisor denied that he grabbed the woman’s crotch, and said “he had only ‘smack[ed] her on the ass,’ but he said that he was sorry the incident had occurred.”
He was suspended for 10 days. The suspension was shorter than what a female employee received for bringing a penis shaped straw to a trip and starting a “twerking” party.
Other employees interviewed for the audit said they did not witness any acts of sexual misconduct or harassment by the supervisor or boatman but accused other women of behaving badly.
A female employee who went on two trips with the supervisor and boatman said other female employees were “scantily” clothed, “did not help with the numerous duties around camp,” “drank too much alcohol,” and were ‘bantering and flirting’ with the male trip participants.”
She said she was friends with the supervisor and boatman and described them as “free spirits” who loved to “joke around” and tell “off-color jokes.”
Another employee, who has been with the agency since 2000, said she found everyone to behave inappropriately on river trips.
“[S]he had participated in around 10 river trips and found the behavior of the other participants shocking,” the inspector general said. “She cited excessive alcohol consumption, nudity, and incidents in which some trip participants yelled angrily at others.”