Hot bodies and cold whitewater rapids have been the recipe for river romance for decades. But what happens when sexual advances are not welcome on the river?
Before the #MeToo movement, guides in the Grand Canyon were speaking up about sexual misconduct and discrimination. In the wake of this, the National Park Service was called to task and required to report on the problem. The #MeToo movement accelerated the visibility of the issue, with hundreds of people coming forward highlighting the widespread nature of sexual misconduct and lack of equity in the outdoors. A group is now taking action.
In 2019, a panel was convened at America Outdoors Conference to talk about sexual misconduct in the outfitted river community. This informal discussion brought to light the need for steps that outfitters can take to stop unwelcome behaviors, on and off the river. It also prompted leaders to think more intentionally about what’s tolerated, what’s not being reported, and how this impacts their employees and business. This is where A-DASH Collaborative was created.
A-DASH stands for “Anti-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment.” The collaborative includes representatives from the National Park Service, the academic community, River Management Society, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Arizona Raft Adventures, guides from the East Coast to the West Coast, and a group of consultants steeped in the river community who are experts in sexual misconduct prevention.
Today, the A-DASH Collaborative provides resources and training for outfitters across the country looking to increase equity and end sexual misconduct and discrimination. Engage Coaching and Consulting, Strand Squared Solutions and Respect Outside are members of the collective, and they provide training and consulting to outfitted businesses with a keen eye toward the unique culture of the river community.
“It’s not uncommon for outfitters to think they don’t have a problem, or to rely on canned training, sexual harassment training videos for the corporate world, or old policies and procedures that don’t represent a desire for a more inclusive culture,” says A_DASH co-founder Jim Miller. “Not having had a report of sexual misconduct does not indicate the absence of a problem in your organization. Relying on the platitude, ‘We hire ‘good people,’ so we don’t have that problem,’ will not prevent sexual discrimination among your folks.”
In fact, Miller adds, the outfitted rafting work environment is defined by many increased risk factors for sexual harassment. These include working in remote settings with a young and homogenous staff where living and working conditions are often blurred, and where there is a strong culture of machismo, drug and alcohol use and a “go for it” attitude.
So far participants in the program are pleased withits results. “I participated in one of A-DASH’s Sexism and Sexual Harassment training for the rafting company I work for, and I was floored,” said a participant known as Cassidy. “There are so many differences between this training and all the myriad of ineffective sexual harassment trainings I’ve had in the past. This training does not finger point, blame, put you on the defensive, or simply describe how to report. It is all encompassing, illuminating and engaging. It is not merely a lecture. I learned a lot about myself; how I cope, how I should/should not intervene, and what positive allyship looks like. Additionally, it talks a lot about power, which can be between genders, rookies and veterans, employee and employer. It’s so much more than just sexual harassment. It covers a ton of topics, all which aim at producing a more harmonious workplace for everyone.”
If you’ve experienced sexual miscondcut or discrimination as a guide, Miller advises, you’re encouraged to report the issue to your supervisor or other leadership. If you don’t get satisfaction, you can elevate the issue to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), your state employment office, or the managing agency under whose permit you operate.
“Stopping unwelcome behavior is everyone’s responsibility,” Miller says. “It needs to start from the top down, with commitment by the organization’s leaders to create real culture change. This begins with a review of your policies and procedures to center civility at work. Learning to interrupt unwelcome behaviors is the cornerstone of A-DASH Collaborative training. You can learn to read the situation like you’d read a rapid: this skill and its familiarity will help you contribute to diminishing sexual misconduct and discrimination in your river community.”
For more information visit www.a-dashcollaborative.org