The elite federal seafarer training school said it is suspending a program that sends students to experience on commercial ships for the second time in five years as it grapples with how to protect cadets from sexual assault and is also working on a plan to convince lawmakers to be safe. swim.
The US Merchant Marine Academy was forced to face the challenge of keeping students safe again after a female midshipman at school shared the story of being raped by a senior engineer while studying at sea in September.
In a posting on the advocacy group’s website and in a subsequent interview with the Washington Post, the woman revealed that she had been attacked and had to spend several more weeks aboard the plane with her alleged assailant.
Deputy Minister of Transport Polly Trottenberg; Lucinda Lessley, Acting Maritime Administrator; and Vice Admiral Jack Buono, the school’s superintendent, announced the decision to suspend the program in a letter to students on Tuesday.
“We understand that this is happening at a time when you have already been tested after nearly two years of major disruptions and changes caused by the COVID pandemic,” they wrote. “While we know this decision will be a disappointment for many, we also expect that as leaders who have chosen the path of ministry, you will support him and each other.”
Studying at sea is a core part of the Kings Point, NY school curriculum and is a requirement for graduation.
The move comes after the chairmen of the congressional committees that oversee the school wrote to the Department of Transportation last week asking them to suspend a program known as the Year of the Sea. Trottenberg, Lessley and Buono said they hope to get the plan with legislators’ approval in the coming weeks and then resume sailing by December.
“This decision was one of the most difficult we faced,” they wrote.
While other service academies in the country struggle to combat sexual assault, the Merchant Marine Academy is unique in sending its students for extended periods on private ships. The program was previously suspended in 2016 and officials took measures to improve the safety of cadets, including mandatory training in sexual violence and harassment for commercial crews hosting cadets.
But advocates of women sailors and victims of attacks question the effectiveness of these changes. The midshipman’s new report quickly caught the attention of lawmakers.
“This incident sheds light on a toxic culture not only in the USMMA, but also in the maritime industry, where cadets and sailors are in danger and cannot escape the culprit.” Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington, Chairman of the Senate for Trade. Committee; Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Resident, Chair of the House of Representatives Transport Committee; and Rep. Adam Smith, Washington, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter last week.
Legislators, joined by the leaders of the three Democratic subcommittees, said the previous changes “clearly did not work, and we are concerned that the Cadets are still in danger.”
The woman, whose account led to a new reckoning, said her goal was not to close the nautical year program. In a statement released by her lawyer, she doubted whether the move would be effective due to the problems associated with bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“As Kings Pointers, we must not turn over US merchant ships to sexual predators,” the woman said. The Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. She continued, “Instead, we must focus on ruthlessly eliminating these predators, and the people and groups that support and protect them, from the maritime industry forever.”
The academy has planned to hold meetings this week, including an in-depth discussion with the midshipmen on Wednesday to discuss their plans.
“This is a difficult time for the USMMA and the entire maritime industry,” officials wrote. “We have unwavering support for all SASH survivors at sea and across campus, and we are committed to continuing to work closely with you as we move forward.”
The midshipman sailed on the vessel Maersk Line, Limited, which is part of the American fleet of the Danish shipping giant. Although her account was anonymous, the company was able to identify the vessel and crew members who were allegedly involved. Five sailors have been suspended and the company said it will update its sexual assault training course.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg raised the issue of sexual assault aboard US ships last month at an industry conference and meeting with leaders of the Coast Guard, maritime industry and trade unions.
“It is critical – but not enough – for a company, agency or government to say that harassment and assault is impatient,” he said. “It is very important – but not enough – to say that the allegations are taken seriously, or to point to existing training and reporting systems. This commitment must be backed up by concrete, deliberate action. ”