Maria Blevins felt anxious when she got on a raft in late April for a trip down Cataract Canyon, knowing she would soon spend an evening talking to professional river guides about sexism and harassment in their industry.
“I am going to the wilderness with 30 people I’ve never met to tell them to stop sexually harassing each other,” she recalled. “This could be the worst four days of my life, as I just show up to be the buzzkill.”
Blevins was once a rafting guide, and she knows that people are often drawn to the fun, party atmosphere that working on the river can bring. She’s also studied the prevalence of harassment in the professional guiding world in her job now as a Utah Valley University professor.
For this training, she partnered with Cora Phillips, director of prevention and education for Moab’s Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center, which helps people who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault.
The women spoke to the Moab-based professional guides as part of an interpretive trip, a days-long training where participants learn about astronomy, biology or camp life. It was the first time, organizers said, that the topic of sexual harassment was discussed.
It turns out Blevins didn’t need to be nervous. Phillips said the group had deep conversations for hours, discussing potential scenarios and how they could respond to them. “It was clear that they were just itching for a space to talk about this,” she said, “and a safe environment where they could really process with other people.”
You can read the full story here — Sexual harassment has plagued the river guiding world. Here’s how Utahns are working to change it — to learn more about the Utah river culture that Phillips, Blevins and others are trying to change.
And here are the tips that Blevins and Phillips taught the guides in Cataract Canyon for intervening effectively if they see someone becoming uncomfortable.
If they see someone on the river make an inappropriate comment or pushing boundaries, they can distract the people in the situation.
They could ask something like, “Hey, can you help me grab this cooler?” or maybe use their body to create space between the person showing problematic behavior and the person targeted.
Take direct action
They could also address the situation head-on, letting someone know that their comments aren’t acceptable or allowed on the river.
“I know you’re frustrated,” a guide could say, “but they don’t deserve to be spoken to like that.”
Document the incident
A guide could make a log detailing what happened, the date, when it happened and names of anyone else who saw the inappropriate behavior. Phillips suggested asking the person experiencing harassment what they would like the guide to do with the information.
Delegate a helper
They could find another guide, or maybe an authority figure, to help with the situation and acknowledge that what they are seeing is not appropriate. That can help establish that the problematic behavior is not an acceptable social norm.
Delay and check in
Guides can check in with the perceived victim to ask if they are okay. Phillips said guides should be prepared to listen and offer support.