Press Release

Senator Gillibrand And Representative Suozzi Announce Passage Of Legislation To Reform Handling Of Sexual Assault Cases At U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

Nov 21, 2017

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representative Tom Suozzi, 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 safer for students. This legislation would 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 the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“After fighting to pass my legislation to protect sexual assault survivors in the Merchant Marine Academy, I’m very pleased it will now become law,” said Senator Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our midshipmen will now have access to the resources and services they need when sexual assault crimes happen. I am proud that this legislation will now be law and I will continue to do all that I can to make sure our midshipmen have the protections they deserve.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the safety of every single cadet on campus and at sea,” said Representative Suozzi. “I’m happy that our bill gives midshipmen the tools to feel safe and the resources they need to report sexual assault crimes. This is a big step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing my work on the Board of Visitors to help make the Merchant Marine Academy a safe place for each and every student.”

“We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand and the others whose efforts ensure we are doing everything we can to enhance safety and support for cadets at the United States Merchant Marine Academy when it comes to sexual harassment and assault,” said Rebecca O’Connor, Vice President of Victim Services, RAINN.

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 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 new law. Gillibrand introduced the Merchant Marine Academy Improvement Act with U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi in July 2017.

Specifically, the Gillibrand provisions in the NDAA would do the following:

On Campus:

  • Establish 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;
  • Give USMMA midshipmen access to a 24-hour SAFE Helpline to provide midshipmen with confidential information about resources and support services;
  • Direct DOT to provide USMMA with more training materials and resources for sexual assault prevention and response. DOT would maintain a direct line of communication with the Academy’s sexual assault response staff outside the USMMA chain of command;
  • Create a plan to prevent retaliation;
  • Direct DOT to train Inspector General agents who investigate sexual assault cases; and
  • Require USMMA to train staff who handle complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

Sea Year/ Commercial Vessels:

  • Authorize funding for USMMA to purchase satellite communication devices for each midshipman at sea so that midshipmen can communicate with the Academy once a week while at sea;
  • Ensure 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;
  • Authorize USMMA to conduct unannounced “spot checks” on commercial shipping vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen;
  • Authorize USMMA to conduct a survey with each midshipman at the completion of Sea Year regarding his or her experiences aboard commercial vessels; and
  • Require industry and/or unions to maintain records of sexual assault training for all ships’ crewmembers.