Announcing Launch of New Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault Prevention Advisory Committee

We are committed to strengthening both the physical and emotional safety of our programs and activities. In February 2024, we launched a new sub-committee focused on preventing sexual harassment and assault. Visit this blog to see updates on the committee's work.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
Mountaineers CEO
June 03, 2024
Announcing Launch of New Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault Prevention Advisory Committee
A scramble trip to West Granite. Photo by Mountaineers Staff.

In a continued pursuit of a safe, welcoming, and inclusive culture, the Board of Directors launched a new Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault (SHSA) Prevention Advisory Committee in December 2023. This is an ad hoc advisory committee chartered to develop recommended near-term and long-term improvements to our bylaws, behavior policies, and operational procedures to address the risk of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault of our members. The committee is charged with defining and understanding the risks of sexual harassment & sexual assault within The Mountaineers, identifying ways to prevent these behaviors, and identifying ways to respond to these behaviors.

This committee will continue the dedicated work The Mountaineers has already done to set and enforce behavior expectations for our members and activity participants. You can stay informed about developments with this committee by visiting this blog. Updates will be posted in reverse chronological order below. Here is a glossary for ease of access:

Recent Updates

April's focus is using our conversations about risks and responsibilities, combined with lessons from the industry, to inform concrete next steps that work towards near-term and long-term objectives. February and March focused on taking a step back and asking high-level questions: Where are our greatest risks? How do we define our responsibilities in a way that uses our mission to be a learning organization, combined with our commitment to being welcoming and inclusive, to support an environment that does not tolerate harmful behavior?

updated June 3, 2024 - gap identification

In May, the committee built statements that describe a future state that we aspire to, based on our foundational beliefs. For example, a foundational belief is "Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault are never acceptable behaviors in The Mountaineers under any circumstances." Therefore we should ensure clear communication to all members that it is unacceptable to The Mountaineers, and we should ensure all members are empowered to report SHSA behavior through a clear and trusted reporting process.

With a future state list built off of foundational beliefs, the committee began categorizing actions that could be taken. These categories are: Policy, Reporting Process, Investigation Process, Leader Training, Member Training, and Communications. Within each of these categories, the committee began identifying cost (including time, human resources, and financial resources), and impact. This, along with a third dimension of dependencies, will help inform a proposed work plan.

updated April 5, 2024 - benchmarking

The committee received a report presented by Steve Smith in which he interviewed 6 peer organizations: all volunteer-based outdoor recreation organizations, some of which were local in WA, some of which were national. He asked about whether they required SHSA training, bystander intervention training, and background checks.  While the responses were mixed in each category, none of the organizations required all of these for their volunteers. He also asked whether they had a code of conduct, whether there was a reporting process in place, and who handled complaints. All organizations had a code of conduct and reporting process in place, and most shared that admin staff was responsible for responding to complaints.

The organizations shared some challenges and successes, which, coupled with some industry research on effective risk management and response approaches will help to inform the committee's work going forward. 

Updated March 6, 2024 - Refining our philosophy

The committee is tackling the tough and nuanced questions about our responsibilities to our community. As a learning organization that strives to be welcoming and inclusive, we're evaluating how we support a healthy environment that does not tolerate harmful behaviors.

Share your experience

Updated February 22, 2024 - Evaluating risks

The committee is meeting twice-monthly, evaluating where the greatest risks are in our programs, acknowledging that certain roles and certain program structures carry more risk than others. Mountaineers programs are diverse, and the committee seeks our members' input on our high risk areas.


Context for new board-chartered sub-committee

About a decade ago, The Mountaineers Board of Directors made a first-ever strategic investment in volunteer leader development by hiring our first Leadership Development Manager. Since then, we’ve launched our Leadership Conference, our Leadership Development Series of workshops, and our Foundations of Leadership and Foundations of Instruction courses - both online and in-person. We’ve worked closely with activity leaders to develop a clear and transparent leadership progression. We’ve also invested in an eLearning platform to make training materials more accessible to our volunteers.

The goals of this investment were multifold: provide training in risk management, leadership skills, emotional safety, equity & belonging, modern teaching theory, and effective teaching techniques; develop clear pathways to leadership that support training through intentional milestones; and support a welcoming and inclusive environment.

In 2017 and 2018, we published our core values and our member code of ethics. Simultaneously, we revised our Prohibited Behavior Policy and our Prohibited Behavior Investigation Policy. In 2019, we published our Essential Eligibility Criteria and Service Animal Policy to support both leaders and participants in understanding how and when our programs can safely welcome participants with diverse abilities.

Collectively, these efforts have been focused on expanding The Mountaineers longstanding commitment to personal safety, which includes physical safety as well as emotional safety. Feeling emotionally safe - to ask questions, share concerns, and show up as your full self - is a key component to physically safe outcomes. Protecting our community from more serious problem behavior is a core part of achieving emotional safety. 

Committee MEmbers

This committee is chaired by Carry Porter, a family law attorney who works closely with domestic violence survivors who is also on The Mountaineers Board of Directors. The committee includes members that have a diverse lived experience, relevant professional background, and representation from various activities and branches with The Mountaineers. It also includes two staff members and an external risk management consultant who was previously a Mountaineers staff member.

Current Committee Roster

  • (Chair) Carry Porter, Board of Directors, Seattle Branch Climb Leader, Scramble Leader, and XC Ski Leader  
  • Lorna Corrigan, Past member of the Board of Directors, Everett Branch Scramble Grad
  • James Henderson, VP of Branches, Foothills Branch Scrambling and Bikepacking Instructor
  • Jocelyn Huang, Equity & Inclusion Committee, Seattle Branch Basic Climbing Grad
  • Mark Kerr, Board of Directors, Tacoma Branch Sailing, Navigation and Avalanche Level 1 Grad
  • Takeo Kuraishi, Board of Directors, Risk Management Committee Member, Seattle Branch Climb Leader
  • Amanda Piro, Board of Directors, Seattle Branch Climb Leader
  • Erin Vagley, Foothills Branch Hike Leader and Climbing Instructor
  • Vanessa Wheeler, Board of Directors, Seattle Branch Hiker
  • Robert White, Board of Directors, Equity & Inclusion Committee Chair, Everett Branch Climbing & Scramble Instructor
  • (External Consultant) Steve Smith, Experiential Consulting, LLC and former Mountaineers Education Manager
  • (Staff) Becca Polglase, Director of Programs & Operations, Seattle Branch Canyon Leader, CHS Grad, and Basic Climbing Grad
  • (Staff) Tom Vogl, CEO, Seattle Branch Avalanche Instructor 

Timeline & Workplan

The Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault Advisory Committee has drafted a charter, to be approved by the Board Executive Committee at the end of February. The committee is meeting on the first and second Mondays of the month with a goal of presenting written recommendations regarding changes to our policies and procedures to the Board of Directors by the end of June 2024.

The current intention is to evaluate risks to program participants first, followed by preventative measures and then responsive measures that would mitigate those risks. 

Two Ways to Participate

The committee has already received valuable feedback from leaders and volunteers, which will shape its work. The committee invites further input from all Mountaineers members. 

Share your experiences

We encourage members to share their experiences and insights on our SHSA Advisory Committee form. 

Participate in a small group meeting

We also invite members to request a small group meeting with one of the Committee members. We’ve found that a dialogue with small groups of interested members and/or volunteers from a particular committee or activity have led to meaningful insights. The committee will review the meeting request and determine which committee member(s) would be best suited to meet with the small group

To set up a small group meeting:

  1. Pull together a group of 4-8 individuals from your Mountaineers community (eg. from your activity committee), and email to request a  group meeting.  Someone from the SHSA Advisory Committee will be in touch to set up a date.
  2. Arrange for a location (in-person is required for this meeting; no hybrid option).
  3. 1-2 members of the SHSA Advisory Committee will meet with your group at your preferred location, at your agreed up on time, for a 1-3 hour meeting.

We sincerely value all thoughtful feedback on this issue, and will fold what we learn from our members into our work.

Thank You

Regular updates will be shared as we continue this work. The Mountaineers is deeply grateful to the volunteers who’ve stepped up to serve on this committee. We believe this is a critical next step in our continued pursuit of a safe and welcoming community.

This blog was originally published on February 8, 2024. The publication date has been updated as additional information is shared in our timeline above.