- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A new report from a federal watchdog unveils a long history of sexual abuse and harassment among National Park Service employees at the Grand Canyon.

An audit released Tuesday by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General said male park employees allegedly propositioned female colleagues for sex, touched them inappropriately and made lewd comments during raft trips along the Colorado River.

The report comes after 13 current and former Grand Canyon employees filed a complaint in September 2014 detailing accusations of women being abused during the river trips for the past 15 years.

Grand Canyon National Park manages about 280 miles of the Colorado River, providing emergency and medical services, as well as guiding trips for researchers, politicians and students. Employees guide about a dozen trips per year, and each river trip lasts several weeks. Grand Canyon officials until recently allowed river rafters to bring alcohol on the trips.

Two park employees are assigned to lead each trip. Co-workers spend lengthy stretches of time together traveling down the river beneath the canyon walls and camping on river banks. A satellite phone, provided for emergencies, is their only connection to the outside world, according to the report.

Some of the incidents of sexual harassment on the trips included a male boatman taking a photograph under a female employee’s skirt, a supervisor grabbing a contract employee’s crotch and a male trip leader possibly taking advantage of a woman who became intoxicated while the group was camping one night. The report named no names.

In their letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, employees described scenarios in which men demonstrated threatening behavior toward their female colleagues.

One employee said a boatman yelled at her while holding an ax while he was intoxicated, and another employee was denied food by her male colleague after she refused his sexual advances, according to the report.

“This is another appalling example of how the current civil service system allows the wrong people to be insulated and protected. Supervisors and managers are failing in their management responsibilities and they should be removed,” House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said in a statement.

“The culture of overlooking and even rewarding bad behavior is inexcusable. Congress must enact meaningful reforms to weed out those who can’t or won’t do their jobs,” Mr. Chaffetz said.

About a dozen people have faced disciplinary action for sexual misconduct since 2003, ranging from a written reprimand to termination. But investigators say those actions are inconsistent, and many alleged incidents go unreported or aren’t properly vetted by supervisors.

One human resources official told investigators a “laissez faire” attitude exists of “what happens on the river stays on the river.”

Park service officials told investigators they know of the history of sexual misconduct accusations and said the agency has tried to change the “culture on the river.”

Officials changed the river district’s standard operating procedure in May 2014 to restrict the use of alcohol to off-duty hours only, but now that rule has been amended to bar the use of alcohol at any time in river trips.

The Office of Inspector General said it had not conducted any similar investigations on sexual harassment at other national parks.

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