The grassroots initiative released data and toolkits to combat misconduct in a united front with climbing organizations to support survivors and drive conversation.

Results of a sexual assault and harassment survey among climbers are on par with national result: The climbing industry is no better than any other industry. But researchers say that what is unique and encouraging is the way the climbing industry as a whole has responded to the topic.

The movement started back in April, when Alpinist Magazine, the American Alpine Club (AAC), Access Fund, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), and other climbing organizations and publications jointly distributed the #SafeOutside survey to quantify the extent of the problem.

Rather than turning their backs on the issue, leaders in the climbing industry are facing it, say researchers Callie Rennison and Charlie Lieu. They received an influx of emails from men and women supportive of the work and wanting to know how they could help.

“It was by far the most positive response I’ve ever encountered in my career when it comes to sexual violence and harassment topics,” said Rennison, a victimologist with more than 20 years of experience. “The response on the survey I think shows it’s not a fake one-time thing. People took a lot of time to share their thoughts and experiences.”

The findings

The data showed that out of more than 5,000 individuals who responded to the survey, 47.3 percent of women and 15.6 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual assault or sexual harassment while climbing.

Most individuals who responded are either sport climbers or gym climbers, who have been climbing for an average of 10 years.

Misconduct included catcalling, verbal harassment, unwanted following from the crag, flashing, unwanted touching, forcible kissing, and unwanted sex acts. Fifty-four respondents (11 men, 42 women, 1 unidentified) reported being raped, such as on an expedition at camp.

The alleged perpetrators include famous climbers or sponsored athletes, brand ambassadors, friends, acquaintances, climbing partners, customers of gyms and expeditions, coworkers, and complete strangers.

And those who reported said their complaints were either dismissed or ignored by some leaders in the industry. When action is taken, it amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Leaders in the climbing industry say they’re still digesting the data, but that uniting like they have shows their commitment to keeping each other accountable of doing better and not just letting the data sit, but doing something proactive about it.

Rennison said as far as she knows, climbing is the first sports group to survey itself. 

“Charlie and I presented the findings to a group of climbing and outdoor industry leaders,” Rennison said. “They were extremely interested and engaged. They wanted to know more and do more to ensure real change comes from this. They clearly recognized that there is an issue and that they are positioned to make positive change. This is great because real change must come from the top—from leaders. And it must be ongoing. It’s clear they are in for the long haul.”

#SafeOutside toolkits are available. They outline best practices for organizations and companies, including having a written anti-misconduct policy and place to report, investigating all reports, and eliminating jokes, photos, and other discriminatory and harassing materials from the workplace.

Industry leaders

Phil Powers, president of the AAC, said that distributing the survey and hosting the results is the first step they've taken in this movement. He said over the years, he has intervened when key volunteers have overstepped, but that is the work leaders are expected to do.

At the AAC, he said they strive to maintain a safe and non-hostile work environment for employees, volunteers, and all event participants. Clear policies are in place, staff and volunteers are screened, and reports of discriminatory and inappropriate behavior are dealt with swiftly and judiciously. Violations result in discipline up to and including termination of membership or employment.

"It's important for the AAC to be a part of this survey and understand the role sexual harassment plays in climbing, both in the gym and outdoors," Powers said. "Climbing has played a hugely positive role in my life, and I am sad to think the actions of some could ruin that opportunity for some people in our community.”

When the AMGA was asked to join by Lieu, they also hopped aboard. This year, the association expanded DEI efforts within annual meetings and trainings, and offered 12 women-specific scholarships—the most in its history.

"The AMGA is proud to be part of the #SafeOutside initiative and is committed to building a more inclusive climbing community," said Alex Kosseff, executive director of AMGA. "Our community is part of the larger society and those who loudly claim that harassment and assault do not occur within climbing no longer have legitimacy. Climbing is a sport of interdependence and the AMGA is committed to strengthening these ties, improving our own professionalism, and partnering with others to build a stronger, safer, and more inclusive community."

Resources

  • Rape, Abuse & Incest National Networt (RAINN): an organization that offers broad information and statistics on sexual violence, safety and prevention, and the latest public policy efforts

Crisis hotlines:

  • U.S. - RAINN national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673
  • Mexico - INMUJERES “Vida sin violencia” at 01-800-911-25-11
  • Australia - National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line at 1-800-737-732 

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