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Military personnel punished for sexual assault of researcher in Antarctica

Two Brazilian Navy servicemen were convicted by the country’s Supreme Military Court (STM) for sexual crimes against a scientist at the Comandante Ferraz research station in Antarctica, a Brazilian scientific operation managed by the Navy. One of them, a senior officer, was convicted of committing a lewd act in a military area and received a one-year prison sentence. The other, a soldier, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for indecent assault and discharged from the armed forces.

The two had previously been acquitted by four votes to one in a trial held at the Military Audit of Brasília, a judicial body that investigates crimes involving military personnel committed outside the country. The Military Public Prosecutor’s Office, however, appealed to the STM, which comprises a panel of 15 judges, and the decision was overturned. The names of the culprits and the victim have not been disclosed due to judicial confidentiality. Despite the existence of protocols to prevent sexual harassment and assault, cases are not uncommon in the isolated environments of Antarctic research stations, where scientists, students, and staff live together 24 hours a day. Two recent reports highlighted the scale of the problem at American and Australian scientific bases on the icy continent (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 321). The assessment relating to Australia included reports of unwanted physical contact, displays of offensive or pornographic material, sexist jokes, and other undesirable behavior at the country’s four research stations.