US government scientists stationed at a base in Antarctica have been banned from buying alcohol in bars as part of a clampdown on alleged sexual assaults.
From Sunday, bars at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) McMurdo Station, where temperatures can plummet to minus 50C, will only serve non-alcoholic drinks.
However, staff will retain their alcohol ration allowing them to buy the equivalent of 18 beers, three bottles of wine, or a 750ml bottle of spirits each week.
One alleged victim of sexual assault at the base said the move “isn’t going to do a damn thing”, arguing that the station’s culture needed to change.
Several women have made damaging claims about the behaviour of colleagues at the site, which they say were subsequently downplayed by their bosses.
One woman, who said she was sexually assaulted, was sacked two months later, while an alleged rape victim said her complaint was downgraded to harassment.
Since the allegations emerged in an Associated Press investigation last month, the NSF has said it is working to clamp down on sexual misconduct at the base.
Researchers will only be able to order non-alcoholic drinks at McMurdo’s two main bars, Southern Exposure and Gallagher’s. However, they will still be able to bring in alcoholic drinks from the local shop and consume them in the bars.
“We will not rest until we are confident that every member of the Antarctic community feels safe and supported,” NSF chief operating officer Karen Marrongelle said.
However, Jennifer Sorensen, who said she was raped at McMurdo in 2015, argued that a pattern of rehiring perpetrators and doubting victims needed to be addressed.
“They know full well that all the rationing or denial of alcohol sales being forced on us isn’t going to do a damn thing,” she said.
“Overwhelmingly, sexual assault has occurred even when neither party has been consuming alcohol, as was the case with me.”
Britt Barquis said there was “no alcohol involved” when she was groped at McMurdo in 2017.
She continued: “I was later told by my company’s HR that I would have to work with the perpetrator again because his job was mission-critical and there was no one else to fill his role.
“None of these new policies implemented by the NSF would prevent that from happening again.”
Six in 10 women said they had experienced harassment or assault while in Antarctica, according to an NSF report from 2022.
A spokesperson for the NSF said alcohol is available for purchase in the McMurdo station store. They added that as part of a programme to prioritise the health and safety of staff the NSF would be “providing additional alcohol-free spaces and other recreational opportunities for USAP [US Antarctic Program] participants, and making Starlink available for morale use at McMurdo and at Palmer Stations”.
Regarding sexual assault and harassment, the spokesperson said the NSF “works constantly to ensure that every member of the Antarctic community feels safe and supported by consistently rolling out new measures, making changes to materials, updating instructions to the prime contractor, and opening additional lines of communication”.