A Canadian space researcher is withdrawing from tests at a Russian institute because of its failure to apologize for the sexual harassment she suffered in an isolation chamber.
Judith Lapierre, who emerged last week from 110 days with a group of male scientists in a replica of a spaceship, says she was shocked by the institute's refusal to acknowledge that she was sexually harassed by a Russian crew commander who forcibly kissed her.
Dr. Lapierre, a 32-year-old nurse and social medicine expert from Gatineau, Que., says she will submit a letter to the institute today to announce she is quitting the Russian post-experiment test program.
"I've stopped doing the Russian tests," she said in an interview yesterday.
"I'm in no position to continue with them after this. I feel I've being wrongly treated and given no support.
"I had to suffer through all this and now they're not recognizing it. This proves I cannot trust them." She said she would have left Moscow for Canada immediately if it wasn't for her promise to undergo tests by Japan's space agency, which helped sponsor the Moscow isolation experiment.
In the incident during a New Year's Eve party in the isolation chamber, Dr. Lapierre said the Russian scientist dragged her away from television monitoring cameras and kissed her aggressively, forcing his tongue into her mouth.
But scientists of the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, in interviews with The Globe and Mail last week, denied it was sexual harassment. They also suggested that the researcher, who has a doctorate in public health and social medicine, might have been equally to blame for the problems in the isolation experiment.
"What's the matter?" one official asked. "Does she say she was raped?"
The experiment's co-ordinator, Vadim Gushin, denied the Russian scientist used force to kiss Dr. Lapierre. "It wasn't sexual behaviour," he said in an interview on Friday. "In the West, some kinds of kissing are regarded as sexual harassment. In our culture it's nothing."
Dr. Lapierre said the denials are proof that the Russians don't understand the importance of the issue. "They didn't get it at all," she said. "It was absolutely unacceptable. But the Russians are trying to turn the situation around and blame us."
Her decision to quit the post-experiment tests, which were to last two more weeks, will mean a "big failure" for the Russian experiment, she said. She noted that another researcher, a Japanese scientist, quit the same experiment in January after witnessing a violent brawl between two Russian scientists during the same New Year's Eve party.
The Japanese scientist felt that the Russian institute was failing to follow the "human ethics" policies of the experiment, she said. "He felt like an animal. He didn't feel respected and didn't feel safe."
After the Japanese scientist's departure, the institute tried to blame him, suggesting that he couldn't adapt to Russian food and culture, Dr. Lapierre said.
The institute gave no support to those in the isolation chamber in the aftermath of the violence and sexual harassment incidents, she said. "We had many scientists but a lack of psychological support. For a whole month there was complete silence."
The institute should have been better prepared for the possibility of violence, she said, citing a 1996 study that warned of the need to prevent outbursts of violence and aggression during long-term isolation in space.
Dr. Lapierre also corrected one error in previous reports of the incidents. Her father had told reporters that she slept with a knife under her bed for fear that the sexual harasser would return, but this was not true, she said. In fact, she told her father that she hid the chamber's kitchen knives because of worry that another violent fight could occur.
The Russian experiment should influence the selection of astronaut crews for the International Space Station that is now orbiting Earth, she said. It is essential that the personality and cultural sensitivity of the astronauts be carefully considered, she said.
Dr. Lapierre said she expects to spend most of the next two years in a space research program in Japan, where the Japanese space agency is strongly interested in the "human factor" in long-term space missions. The Canadian Space Agency appears to have no funding for similar research, she said.
"My dream was to stay in Canada and help my own country, but now that looks impossible. Canada is losing, in a big way."
She still dreams of becoming an astronaut in Canada's space program, but said the problems in the Russian isolation experiment could damage her chances.