Protecting Seafarers from Sexual Violence: Addressing Impunity

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The US officials have decided not to prosecute the alleged rape case of a US Merchant Marine Academy cadet, Hope Hicks. This decision is not uncommon, as the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault in the US do not go to prison. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 25 will lead to a perpetrator going to prison, leaving 97.5% of sexual assaults without criminal accountability. This lack of prosecution is a challenge that seafarers face globally, as they are at risk of sexual assault and harassment without proper justice systems to hold perpetrators accountable.

David Hammond, the CEO of Human Rights at Sea, emphasizes that protecting employees from sexual violence, including harassment, should be a fundamental focus for every stakeholder in the maritime sector. He believes that flag states need to prioritize the protection of seafarers and publicly condemn instances of sexual violence. Additionally, there is a need for impactful victim-led remediation pathways that can hold employers and perpetrators accountable without jeopardizing the victim’s career. While steps have been taken in Washington DC to improve protection for seafarers and cadets on US-flag ships with the Safer Seas Act, more needs to be done to address sexual harassment on merchant ships and make it a federal crime.

Lawyer Ryan Melogy, who has represented victims at sea, advocates for sexual harassment on merchant ships to be treated as a federal crime. He suggests that referrals of sexual assault and harassment cases should be sent to one Justice Department office with expertise in prosecuting sexual crimes, allowing for better collaboration with the Coast Guard Investigative Service. While measures such as video surveillance, protection for whistleblowers, and mandatory reporting have been implemented, the prosecution of assailants is crucial to ensuring the safety of seafarers.

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