These women came to Antarctica for science. Then the hunters emerged


On 12th April, 2019, Boston University finally fired David Merchant for sexually harassing Willenbring. (The university said it could not corroborate her claims of physical and psychological abuse.) Merchant released a statement, which the magazine Science It was quoted as pledging that he “never” sexually assaulted anyone, “not in Antarctica in 1998 or 1999 or at any time thereafter.” But because of Willenbring the matter ended.

In the wake of this scandal, the National Science Foundation launched an external study on sexual assault and harassment at Antarctic research facilities. The lengthy report, made public in August 2022, contained shocking allegations of assault, stalking and harassment. Britt Barquist, a former fuel foreman at McMurdo, was now under contract with a company called Amentum. He supervised a crew of about 20 people who performed the dangerous work of handling and cleaning diesel and gasoline fuel tanks. One day in late November 2017, she told me, she was sitting at a table with a man who held a senior position at Leidos, a company that manages Antarctic research stations. He was running a briefing for staff when he apparently groped her.

When he talked to his supervisor about it, he said he had witnessed some of the incidents himself. Her boss informed Amentum's human resources department. “I told HR I never wanted to be around him again. I'm afraid of this guy,” Barquist says, “and he said, 'Okay.'

But in 2020, during another stint working with the McMurdo contractor, she was told she would be participating in weekly virtual meetings with the same senior executive. Barquist, who needed a job, did not value it for himself. “It was disgusting and horrible to see his face and hear his words,” she says, “to see him being treated like a normal man, while in my mind I was like, 'This The man is a hunter. Why is everyone acting like he is a normal person?”

The following year, at the end of a nearly three-week Covid quarantine with a crew in New Zealand, she scanned the manifest for an upcoming flight to Antarctica and saw the senior officer's name on it. When she called her human resources department to complain about a strange relationship, she said she was treated rudely by two executives, one of whom posed as the victim's lawyer.

“I said I still don't want to be around this guy,” she tells me, “but he said, 'So how would you suggest we deal with this?'” Barquist becomes emotional when she sees two women. Recalls her conversation with her employer. “I thought they were going to be on my side,” she says. Instead, they kept pressuring her about how afraid she was to be around him.

“I finally said, 'Yes,'” she says, “I felt unsafe being alone in a room with him!” Then the signal dropped, she says, and she never Was not successful in reconnecting with them. Barquist went back to Antarctica, where she tried to avoid the superior officer. But since his team's safety depended on communicating with him on an almost daily basis, he eventually had to relent.