October 18, 2016

Senator Gillibrand Announces New Reforms To Combat Scourge Of Sexual Assault And Harassment Of U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipmen

Shocking survey found more than six out of 10 female U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen say they were sexually harassed and over 17 percent say they were sexually assaulted during the 2014-2015 academic year, yet only one incident was reported to Academy officials / Senator Gillibrand’s proposal would help expose and curb sexual assault and harassment by giving midshipmen more resources to report these crimes and give the Academy more training and resources to respond to and prevent sexual

Kings Point, N.Y. – Following a recent survey revealing a staggering number of sexual assault and harassment incidents at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) campus and at sea, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a new plan to combat sexual violence and change the climate at the USMMA. According to the USMMA’s most recent survey of midshipmen on sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the 2014-2015 academic year, 63 percent of women and 11 percent of men said they had been sexually harassed, and 17 percent of women said they had been sexually assaulted, yet only one case was reported to Academy officials during the 2014-2015 academic year. According to the same survey, 78 percent of the female midshipmen who were sexually assaulted but did not report it to the Academy said that they did not feel comfortable making a report, and an overwhelming majority, 69 percent, thought they would be blamed for the assault.

Senator Gillibrand’s proposed reforms would provide midshipmen with more resources and support to report these 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. The bill would also help ensure that the commercial vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen provide a safe environment. Senator Gillibrand’s proposal would empower the Department of Transportation Inspector General by providing the training necessary to properly investigate reports of sexual assault. Senator Gillibrand announced today that she plans to introduce the proposal as legislation in the U.S. Senate.

“The price of an education and job training at sea cannot be sexual assault and harassment,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the premier school for midshipmen to start careers supporting the military and on commercial carriers at sea – to become the best mariners in the world – so to have more than six out of ten female midshipmen and more than one out of ten male midshipmen say they were sexually harassed in a year is completely unacceptable. To have 17 percent of female midshipmen being sexually assaulted is outrageous. This scourge of sexual violence and harassment demands immediate action. Working with midshipmen, school officials, and sexual assault prevention experts, I’ve put together a plan that I will introduce as legislation in the Senate to help end this crisis at the academy and protect our midshipmen on campus and at sea.”

“The Safe Center appreciates the efforts of Senator Gillibrand to expand Title IX protections to the Merchant Marine Academy. Too many victims of sexual assault have felt that they could not safely come forward in the past. This bill and these provisions will make a difference in the lives of so many young women and men who are suffering with the trauma of having been victims of sexual assault,” said Anthony Zenkus, Director of Education at The Safe Center LI.

Senator Gillibrand is proposing the following reforms:

1. Make USMMA subject to Title IX requirements

Problem: Unlike civilian college campuses, USMMA is not subject to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender. In addition, unlike the other service academies, USMMA midshipmen are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Due to USMMA’s unique status, the academy’s leadership lacks a proper mechanism to enforce sexual harassment and sexual assault policies on campus.

Solution: Remove the Merchant Marine Academy exemption from Title IX requirements.

2. Create an Independent Advocate for Victims of Sexual Assault and Harassment

Problem: Based on surveys of midshipmen at the USMMA, incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault are significantly underreported. Midshipmen have limited access to information and resources about their options for pursuing justice and receiving assistance from the USMMA community.

Solution: Require the USMMA to designate an Independent Advocate to whom victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking can confidentially report incidents and receive information about their legal rights, reporting options, available resources, and accommodations.

3. Create a 24-hour helpline for sexual assault support 

Problem: USMMA midshipmen do not have access to adequate 24-hour sexual assault support. Due to USMMA midshipmen’s unique status as inactive reservists, the Department of Defense SAFE Helpline, as currently designed, is not an appropriate resource for them. USMMA midshipmen need access to services that provide information about the resources available to them. 

Solution: Require USMMA to provide 24-hour sexual assault support. The support should be similar to services offered by the Department of Defense SAFE Helpline.

4. Provide USMMA staff with more training to handle and prevent sexual assault

Problem: USMMA has limited access to relevant training materials.

Solution: The Department of Transportation must provide additional training resources at USMMA.

5. Hire more staff designated to prevent and respond to sexual assault

Problem: There is only one sexual assault staff member at USMMA: the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, who serves over 900 midshipmen.

Solution: The Department of Transportation must provide additional sexual assault response and prevention staff at USMMA.

6. Create a full-time position to handle Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.

Problem: There is currently no permanent staff to handle EEO complaints.

Solution: The USMMA must hire or designate a full-time faculty member to handle the responsibilities of a Civil Rights Officer.

7. Create a plan to stop retaliation against midshipmen who report sexual assault so that more midshipmen can feel comfortable reporting these crimes.

Problem: There are currently no consequences for retaliation. According to the USMMA’s most recent survey, 78 percent of female midshipmen who were assaulted but did not report it to the academy said they did not feel comfortable making a report; 71 percent said they did not think their report would be confidential; and 69 percent thought they would be blamed for the assault. 

Solution: USMMA must create and implement a plan to combat retaliation against student survivors who report sexual assault. Retaliation will be a violation of the Midshipman Honor Manual.

8. Provide adequate training to the investigators who investigate sexual assault cases

Problem: Investigators receive no training on investigating sexual assault.

Solution: The Department of Transportation must mandate specialized sexual assault investigation training for all Department of Transportation Inspector General agents at the New York, NY, office.

9. Require sexual assault training for USMMA staff

Problem: There is currently no regular sexual assault training for USMMA staff.

Solution: The USMMA must mandate regular training for USMMA staff, including company officers.

Sea Year-Specific Proposals

10. Give midshipmen satellite communication devices so they can report being sexually assaulted while they are at sea

Problem: Midshipmen have no way to communicate with a safe reporting source that they have been sexually assaulted while they are at sea. 

Solution: Provide adequate funding for the USMMA to purchase satellite communication devices and require the USMMA to provide one for each student during Sea Year.

11. Make sure the year at sea is safe for midshipmen by ensuring that the ships they are assigned to are safe and meet minimum standards 

Problem: Assaults have occurred at Sea Year. USMMA needs to ensure midshipmen are safe during their time at sea. 

Solution: The USMMA must work with industry to ensure that all crew members aboard a ship where there is a Sea Year student serving have a valid Transportation Worker Identification Credential, also known as a TWIC. In addition, the USMMA will develop and impose sexual assault policy standards upon commercial shipping vessels embarking USMMA midshipmen. 

12. Conduct “spot checks” on commercial vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen to ensure that they are safe environments free of sexual assault and harassment 

Problem: Assaults have occurred at Sea Year. USMMA needs to ensure that midshipmen are safe during their time at sea. 

Solution: USMMA Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) and/or MARAD staff must conduct unannounced “spot checks” on commercial shipping vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen, and have the immediate authority to remove midshipmen if violations are found. 

13. Require sexual assault training for crew aboard vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen

Problem: Assaults have occurred at Sea Year. USMMA needs to that ensure midshipmen are safe during their time at sea.

Solution: MARAD must require industry entities hosting USMMA midshipmen to maintain and/or verify with unions, records of sexual assault training for all ships’ crews. 

Senator Gillibrand plans to introduce these reforms as legislation in the U.S. Senate.