McSally: Grand Canyon National Park ‘ground zero’ for sexual harassment

Mar 29, 2019, 5:15 PM | Updated: 6:36 pm
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)...
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona expressed her concern about sexual harassment at Grand Canyon National Park during a Senate hearing Thursday, calling the park “ground zero” for issues in the National Park Service.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Christine Lehnertz, who was hired in 2016 to curb the park’s negative reputation, resigned from her post on March 14 after she was cleared of allegations of fostering a hostile atmosphere around the staff.

McSally’s call for sexual harassment accountability comes less than a month after she revealed that she was raped in the Air Force by a superior officer.

“I’m concerned about the Grand Canyon National Park – the culture, the leadership there,” McSally said. “What’s going to happen at Grand Canyon National Park to make sure that people are treated with honor, respect and dignity, and to ensure that harassment and bullying are not going to be tolerated?”

McSally’s call for accountability came during a hearing on the nomination of Acting U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

McSally pressed Bernhardt on the issue for several minutes, even inviting Bernhardt to Grand Canyon National Park to see firsthand the issues.

Nearly 39 percent of Park Service employees say they have experienced sexual harassment, according to a survey commissioned by the Interior Department in 2017.

“We have dramatically revised our anti-harassment policy. We have hired anti-harassment coordinators,” Acting Secretary Berhardt said in response to McSally.

“I have basically required every single bureau to bring me an anti-harassment plan, handed that plan to experts, had the experts go through it and come back to me and tell me what needed to be tweaked and then say it implement it and we’re watching you.

McSally, a 26-year military veteran and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, made her sexual assualt disclosure at a hearing on the armed services’ efforts to prevent sexual assaults and improve the response when they occur.

She said she did not report being sexually assaulted because she did not trust the system and was ashamed and confused.

“I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as the military grappled with the scandals, and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor,” she said during the March 6 hearing, choking up as she detailed what had happened to her.

“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service over my despair. Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”

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McSally: Grand Canyon National Park ‘ground zero’ for sexual harassment