Early last year, a massive, years-long pattern of sexual harassment at the Grand Canyon, the crown jewel of the National Park Service, became a public scandal. As The Investigative Fund and Highline reported in March, female NPS employees at the Grand Canyon had, for more than 10 years, found themselves targeted with unwanted sexual attention when their work brought them to the 280-mile Colorado River Corridor at the bottom of the Canyon. Relatively isolated as they traveled with staff from the park’s River District — the program that oversaw daily operations and law enforcement along the river — women reported, variously, that “boatmen” invited them to share their tents, asked them to describe sexual fantasies so they could act them out, or exposed themselves to their female colleagues. The hatch of one Park Service boat was covered with photos of topless women and women at times faced retaliation for rebuffing advances: guides obstructed their work, refused to take them to work sites or limited their meals; some women traveling alone with the river guides felt unsafe.
There was little consequence for the accused harassers, who enjoyed an exalted status within the park; men who had reports filed against them were repeatedly slapped on the wrist by park management or, at worst, allowed to retire or resign. For years, qualified female rangers and other NPS staff drifted or were pushed out of the park, including, in 2014, two women whose contracts were terminated in what seemed like clear retaliation for previous sexual harassment complaints they’d made. By January, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General released the results of a year-and-a-half-long investigation into the complaints, which included the experiences of 35 victims or witnesses of 13 years of sexual harassment, assault and hostile workplace environment — perpetrated by a core group of four men in the River District and enabled by an administration that excused misconduct and reprisal for years.
That wasn’t the end of the story.