New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed a multifaceted plan designed to end the “scourge” of sexual assault and harassment of midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Gillibrand, a Democrat, wants to provide midshipmen with more resources and support to report abuse and harassment, and better train staff at the Kings Point, N.Y., federal service academy to respond to and prevent sexual assault. The plan also called for the Department of Transportation inspector general to be trained and empowered to investigate reports of abuse. Gillibrand announced the plan at a press conference at USMMA, one of five federal service academies, Tuesday.
“The price of an education and job training at sea cannot be sexual assault and harassment,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “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 10 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.”
Gillibrand cited numbers from a 2014-15 USMMA survey of midshipmen in which 63% of women and 11% of men said they had been sexually harassed. The same survey found that harassment and assault were seldom formally reported because respondents felt uncomfortable or feared retribution.
Earlier this year, the federal maritime academy suspended its Sea Year program citing concerns over “safety and mutual respect” for midshipmen serving on U.S.-flagged merchant vessels. Both school administrators and an alumni task force are investigating the issue, which has put the academy’s accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education at risk.
Under Gillibrand’s plan, USMMA would be made to comply with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Other service academies are overseen by the Department of Defense and subject to the code, but the USMMA is operated by the Maritime Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Gillibrand also called for an independent victims’ advocate, a 24-hour helpline, a plan to combat retaliation against those who report assaults, satellite communication devices for midshipmen while away on sea year, and regular spot-checks of commercial vessels hosting USMMA midshipmen on sea year.
Gillibrand said she would introduce the reform plan as Senate legislation.