Maersk Rape Case: New Bill Launched To Address Sexual Assault At Sea

A new legislation has been brought out by a group of Senators in the United States which is aimed at strengthening sexual assault / sexual harassment (SASH) prevention, response, investigation and accountability in the maritime industry and put down additional safeguards for the Midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA).

Maersk Rape Case: New Bill Launched To Address Sexual Assault At Sea
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Read Our Original Coverage: 19 Year Old Engine Cadet Raped At Sea: US Merchant Marine Academy Faces Questions

The Improving Protections for Midshipmen Act has been proposed by Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) after the United States federal maritime academy went for a temporary closure at-sea training for the second time in five years amid ongoing struggles to grapple with sexual assault and misconduct against its cadets at sea.

The new bill would effectuate improved conditions and reduced risk to all mariners, taking in USMMA Midshipmen, the lawmakers reported.

Wicker said: “The Department of Transportation’s knee-jerk reaction to pause Sea Year is not an effective way to prevent future incidents of abuse and harassment. It will harm the professional development of current Midshipmen and increase pressure and scrutiny on survivors of assault. This legislation would protect our mariners from sexual misconduct and hold accountable those who commit these abhorrent behaviours. If these prudent measures are adopted quickly, the Sea Year can be resumed by December.”

“In light of the troubling allegations that recently surfaced at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, we must do all that we can to protect students who have chosen the path of service and ensure they can continue their important work,” stated Collins.

“This legislation would strengthen sexual violence prevention, response, investigation, and accountability measures to improve cadets’ safety. Congress must remain committed to reducing the instances of sexual assault at our service academies and providing appropriate care for survivors.”

Related: Maersk Calls For Support On Engine Cadet Rape Case

“Sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence continue to plague both the maritime industry and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy,” mentioned Gillibrand.

“Congress must act to address this scourge and protect our mariners. The bipartisan Improving Protections for Midshipmen Act would strengthen measures relating to prevention, training, investigation and accountability and would give mariners and midshipmen more confidence in their safety.”

The Improving Protections for Midshipmen Act would:

  1. Provide Accountability for SASH Offenders:
  • Give the Coast Guard authority to suspend a mariner’s license in case the individual is found to have committed sexual harassment or sexual assault onboard vessel.
  • Take in commission of sexual assault as an independent and explicit ground for suspension or revocation, and include sexual harassment as a new form of misconduct on which a license could be suspended.
  • Involve the Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard to evaluate the applicability of the DoD’s Catch a Serial Offender program to the merchant marine, and, if so, how such a program would be implemented.  

2. Track incidents of SASH and collect student feedback:

  • Set up a sexual assault and sexual harassment database at the USMMA to track reports of harassment and assaults systematically.
  • Involves exit interviews from students after Sea Year and include information from these exit interviews into the database.

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3. Provide information, training, and resources to students:

  • Require the USMMA to create a training program specifically designed for Midshipmen going onboard ships, which would pay heed to the full continuum of SASH in the at-sea environment, including prevention, identification, reporting, and available support.
  • Systemize the position of Special Victims Counsel at the USMMA.
  • Enable the Department of Transportation the authority for direct hire of employees of the SASH office, to put an end to unacceptably long gaps in staffing.

4. Set up a framework to improve the USMMA’s SASH policies and procedures:

  • Set up a Sexual Assault Advisory Council, with members taking in USMMA Alumni and SASH experts, to deliver feedback to the USMMA for improvements on SASH policy and implementation.
  • Involve the USMMA to promote a student support plan centred around improving Midshipmen well-being by improving the climate and sharing available mental health resources at the Academy.

5. Increase the Diversity of the Maritime Academy and Maritime Workforce:

  • Upgrade policies to expand diversity in both the USMMA and the maritime workforce.
  • Systemize the diversity in Merchant Marine and Inclusion Task Force under the Committee on the Marine Transportation System.

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