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Maersk investigates alleged rape of 19-year-old during federal training program

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The anonymous author of the post said she is currently a senior at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York, which trains students to become commissioned officers in the armed forces and merchant navy officers. licensed workers who work on ships carrying goods. and passengers from all over the world.

She wrote last month that she was the only woman aboard a Maersk ship during her year at sea, a compulsory program in which students work on commercial ships and experience what school described as their “first real opportunity for self-reliance”.

In her account of what happened, she said that after leaving a port in the Middle East, the ship’s engineers forced her and her younger comrade, who is male, to take down a blow. after heavy drinking one night, and she woke up naked in bed early the next morning and started to panic.

“There was blood on my sheets and I knew immediately that I had been raped,” she wrote. “I was a virgin and I had run away, and as soon as I woke up I could feel I was in great pain and I knew exactly what had happened.”

She wrote that her supervisor on the ship, a senior engineer in his 60s and deputy in command of her department, sexually harassed her for weeks before that night. She said that although she could not remember the actual rape from the alcohol, she remembered this same man in her bedroom, stripping naked, standing on top of her and imposing himself on her.

According to her message, he called her a few hours after waking up and realized what had happened and asked her to come to her room, saying they needed to talk. The woman said she went to his room and when she accused him of forcing himself on her he denied, saying he had just helped her get back to her room and “Whatever you thought it happened, you wouldn’t tell the captain, would you? “She said he put his hand on her thigh and when she got up to leave he told her that no one would ever believe her.

“Back in my room, I decided the only thing I could do was resist,” she wrote in her article on the website of Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy, a nonprofit organization. led by a USMMA graduate who said he was a victim and witness of sexual harassment and abuse on a Maersk ship. “No one was going to believe me, and enduring was the only option I felt like I had. I was trapped.”

For the next 50 days, she said she had to continue working for the man who raped her – seeing him every day.

What she said made her speak out

While she confided in the other USMMA caddy on board the alleged rape, she did not officially report it at the time. But upon returning to campus and working as an advocate for victims, she learned that at least nine other students currently enrolled in the academy said they were raped during their Year of the Sea. to speak out, she said, and her story quickly spread to industry and the federal government.

“She was sickened by the number of young women raped at sea,” said her lawyer Ryan Melogy, founder of the association which published its story. “Nothing has been done to fix the problem. She wants to see real change and real responsibility for what has happened to her and far too many others.”

His post also garnered media attention and dozens of comments expressing support and sharing similar experiences of men and women, including alumni, students, academy parents and other actors. of the maritime industry.
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Denmark-based Maersk, which is the world’s largest container shipping company, said in a statement on Friday, as previously reported in Danish and industry media, that its US subsidiary is working closely with the academy, the unions representing officers and crew, and the US government, and that five crew members would remain suspended until the investigation is completed.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened to have read. We take this situation seriously and are troubled by the allegations made in this anonymous post which only recently came to our attention,” said Bill Woodhour, CEO of Maersk Line, Limited, the company’s US subsidiary. “We are doing everything possible to ensure that all of our work environments, including ships, are a safe and welcoming place to work and we have launched a top-down investigation.”

The US Maritime Administration, which oversees the academy, said in a statement that it was aware of the allegation and that the USMMA superintendent returned the blog post to the Coast Guard’s investigative department. the day after its publication. “We have zero tolerance for sexual assault and sexual harassment at USMMA and in the shipping industry,” the statement said. “As we determine the appropriate actions necessary to increase and ensure the safety of USMMA students, we are committed to listening and working closely with the entire USMMA community, including students, parents and former students. A spokesperson for the agency also noted that the woman said in her post that she did not choose to report the alleged assault and said the academy and government officials would undertake a review of the alleged assault. current requirements for commercial vessels to ensure student safety.

Sea Year has already been suspended

USMMA’s partnerships with shipping companies had already come under scrutiny in 2016, when Sea Year was suspended over reports of sexual assault and harassment. It was reinstated the following year, after the school and the federal government touted new rules for the program and a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment.

The federal government said last year that reports of sexual assault against academy students declined in the 2018-19 academic year, but there were nine allegations of sexual assault in the during this period, as well as two allegations of sexual harassment and one report of retaliation.

The Department of Transportation also noted that the school’s culture remained “strongly influenced by the higher ratio of males to females” – giving some female students the impression that they had to act as “one of the boys “- and said there were still a number of reasons victims don’t feel comfortable coming forward, including” fear of retaliation from their peers, social stigma and ostracism “.

The woman behind the blog post wrote that out of more than 50 women in her senior year at the academy, she “hasn’t spoken to a single one of those women who told me she didn’t. had not been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or degraded at any time during the past 3 years at the Academy or during the Year of the Sea. Most people, and even the leaders of our school, don’t seem understand how serious this problem is, especially at sea. “

Ahead of Maersk’s announcement of his investigation, the US Under Secretary of Transportation and the Acting Maritime Administrator co-wrote a letter posted on the school’s website expressing the agency’s “unwavering support” for the woman who came forward.

Congressman Tom Suozzi and US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also released a statement last week demanding an immediate investigation and stating that they “will continue to work closely with the Merchant Marine Academy to put systems in place to ensure reporting. quick and thorough “.

Do you have any experience or information to share about the US Merchant Marine Academy or the marine industry? Email us at watchdog@cnn.com.

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