Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee on the Senate Armed Services Committee, today announced the passage of the Merchant Marine Academy Improvement Act in the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation, included as a provision in the NDAA, establishes new requirements and provides additional resources to make the Academy campus and Sea Year a safer place for students. This legislation will help address sexual assault and harassment by giving midshipmen access to additional resources to report these crimes and ensuring that Academy staff have appropriate training and resources to respond to and prevent sexual assault on campus and at sea. The NDAA will now go to conference committee with the U.S. House of Representatives.
“After fighting to pass my legislation to protect sexual assault survivors in the Merchant Marine Academy, I’m very pleased the Senate has included this provision in the National Defense Authorization Act,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We owe it to our Midshipmen to make sure they have access to the resources and services they need when sexual assault crimes happen, and it is essential that we codify these changes into law so that they can’t be weakened or taken away in the years to come. I am proud that this legislation is one step closer to becoming law, and I will keep fighting to ensure that the final NDAA conference bill includes these provisions, as well as my provision to also provide Title IX protections to Merchant Marine Academy Midshipmen.”
According to the USMMA’s most recent survey of midshipmen on sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the 2015-2016 academic year, 19.5 percent of women and 0.8 percent of men said they had been sexually assaulted, yet only four cases were reported to Academy officials during the 2015-2016 academic year. According to the same survey, 73 percent of the assaults took place on Academy grounds.
In 2016, the Academy failed five of the fourteen standards after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) cited several concerns – in particular, problems related to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
In October 2016, Senator Gillibrand visited the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and proposed reforms that would provide midshipmen with more resources and support to report sexual assault crimes and would give USMMA staff more training to respond to and prevent sexual assault on campus and during the midshipmen’s year at sea. Many of these proposed reforms are included in the “Culture Change Action Plan” released in January by the Academy and are also included in the legislation. Gillibrand introduced the Merchant Marine Academy Improvement Act with U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi in July 2017.
Specifically, the Gillibrand provision in the NDAA would do the following:
- Establishes new requirements for the role of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), to whom midshipmen can disclose incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault and receive information about reporting and accessing services at USMMA and in the community. For example, the Gillibrand provision requires the SARC to: have experience in providing victim services; complete a specified training program; provide confidential services; represent the interests of a midshipman who reports being a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault; and provide comprehensive information to midshipmen who report sexual harassment or sexual assault regarding their options for reporting an incident and accessing available services and accommodations;
- Gives USMMA midshipmen access to the Department of Defense 24-hour SAFE Helpline to provide midshipmen with confidential information about resources and support services;
- Directs DOT to provide USMMA with more training materials and resources for sexual assault prevention and response. DOT will maintain a direct line of communication with the Academy’s sexual assault response staff outside the USMMA chain of command;
- Creates a plan to prevent retaliation;
- Directs DOT to train Inspector General agents who investigate sexual assault cases; and
- Requires USMMA to train staff who handle complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Sea Year/ Commercial Vessels:
- Authorizes funding for USMMA to purchase satellite communication devices for each midshipman at sea so that midshipmen can communicate with a safe reporting source while at sea;
- Ensures that commercial shipping vessels that embark midshipmen are in compliance with industry requirements for proper crew safety and follow minimum crew training standards and sexual assault report protocols;
- Authorizes USMMA to conduct unannounced “spot checks” on commercial shipping vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen;
- Authorizes USMMA to conduct a survey with each midshipman at the completion of Sea Year regarding his or her experiences aboard commercial vessels; and
- Requires industry and/or unions to maintain records of sexual assault training for all ships’ crew.