Sexual harassment and abuse of power: Serious allegations against Nirmal Purja

In an article in the New York Times, two female mountaineers make serious allegations against the Nepalese mountaineering star Nirmal Purja.

Anna Callaghan and Jenny Vrentas' research entitled "For female climbers, the dangers go beyond avalanches and storms" has sparked a wave of outrage. The New York Times article in question is about women increasingly reporting sexual harassment and abuse in mountain sports, including allegations against Nimal Purja.

Two witness statements

In the case of the famous Himalayan mountaineer, two women have their say who describe their personal experiences and make serious allegations against him.

One of them is the professional mountaineer and former Miss Finland Lotta Hintsa. In the article, she tells how Nirmal Purja sexually harassed her in March 2023 during a business meeting in his hotel suite in Kathmandu. Nimsdai kissed her without warning, undressed against her will and masturbated in her presence.

The other witness statement is from April Leonardo. The American was on K2022 in June 2 as a customer of Purja's expedition company Elite Exped. She reports how he kissed her without her consent, made aggressive advances and touched her intimately against her will.

In both cases, the women describe feelings of helplessness and vulnerability in the face of Purja's physical strength. Lotta Hintsa says it felt like an out-of-body experience when he undressed her despite continually saying no.

Nirmal Purja is considering legal action

The accused mountaineering star spoke out with a statement on Instagram in which he “clearly denies the disgusting allegations made against him”. The claims are defamatory and false.

Statement from Nirmal Purja regarding the allegations in the NYT article.
Statement from Nirmal Purja regarding the allegations in the NYT article.

Nirmal Purja criticizes that New York Times article contains many inaccuracies and omits numerous critical facts. For example, he provided a very detailed timeline for March 30 showing that the alleged events on that day could not possibly be true. He is currently examining his legal options.

Just the tip of the iceberg?

In response to the allegations, several expedition providers and well-known alpinists have distanced themselves from Purja. Adrian Ballinger, boss of Alpenglow Expeditions, wrote on Instagramthat sexual exploitation is a danger that cannot simply be contained. “We must work together to ensure that there is zero tolerance in our society.”

He sees it similarly Austrian provider Furtenbach Adventures. “One of the most important role models in this community has been credibly accused by several women of sexual harassment. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and reiterate that it has no place in our community.”

AWExpeditions, a US agency that specializes in expeditions for women, writes that it is no stranger to gendered power dynamics and aggression in the mountains. “We are deeply disturbed by Nims’ reports that he is committing sexual violence against women in the mountains.”

As the first sponsor of Nirmal Purja, the British backpack specialist Osprey has drawn conclusions from the affair: Nirmal Purja will no longer be listed as a brand ambassador.

The renowned mountaineer's support also seems to be crumbling in his home country. The opposition politician Rajendra Bajgain demanded in a statement on X called on the government of Nepal to investigate the Nirmal Purja case.

#MeToo in mountain sports

Events like the recent one related to Nirmal Purja are nothing new. Boris Becker and Tiger Woods are well-known examples from the sports sector who made waves. We have to disappoint anyone who thinks that mountain sports are an exception.

Just a few days ago, Californian climber and climbing guide author Charles Barrett was sentenced to life in prison. "He used his status as a prominent climber to sexually assault women in the climbing community," lawyer Phillip Talbert was quoted as saying in the press release from the United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of California.

A study from 2018 shows that our sport is no exception, in which 40% of women said they had been exposed to sexual assault or harassment in connection with their climbing activities.

57% of women reported being verbally harassed, 41% were touched without being asked, 7% were kissed against their will, and 3% reported being raped. The study explicitly asked about cases related to the practice of climbing.

When asked whether mountain sports have a problem with sexual violence, AWExpeditions has a clear answer: “Unfortunately, based on many informal conversations, we can say with confidence that this high-profile case is just the tip of the iceberg of a systemic problem in mountain sports .»

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Credits: Cover picture Red Bull Content Pool

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