Two Maersk students charged with sexual assault and harassment

Using the nickname Midshipman-Y, the young woman’s account is the latest blow to the federal academy, which is fighting to protect students from sexual violence both on campus and at sea, and to hold offenders accountable. Last year, the academy briefly closed its mandatory Marine Year training program following the publication of a report by another student who said she was raped by a senior crew member at sea in the summer of 2019, when she was 19 years old.

Both students were accommodated on the same ship Maersk during their respective Maritime years with a difference of two years. Now, just days before the end of the school year, they are suing Maersk in separate lawsuits filed this week, arguing that the shipping giant had no guarantees of protection and that it promotes a culture in which sexual assault and harassment have not been taken into account. seriously.

It is common sense that putting a 19-year-old girl on a ship full of older men, where many men have unrestricted access to her cabin through master keys and where men routinely get very drunk, can lead to a teenager being subjected to of sexual violence, “lawyers wrote in one of the lawsuits.

Maersk Line, Limited said in a statement that it was reviewing lawsuits but did not comment on pending lawsuits. However, the company noted that it has “zero tolerance for attacks, harassment or any form of discrimination on our ships or in our company.”

“We take all allegations of assault or harassment very seriously and remain committed to ensuring that the ship’s environment is safe, supportive and friendly to all,” the company said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit filed by Midshipman-Y, the now 19-year-old was assigned to undergo training aboard the Maersk, Alliance Fairfax, last summer. When boarding, she claims to have been warned by a fellow student leaving the ship about “scary boys” on board and “to be careful”. The departing student said she should avoid wearing swimsuits or shorts to avoid attracting attention. But from the moment she boarded, Midshipman-Y said she had been the subject of sexual commentary and jokes from a number of crew members. An electrician and a senior crew member also began making unwanted sexual advances, allegedly telling her he wanted to have sex with her and touching her repeatedly.

“You’re the only girl. “We have to take off your pants, put you on the table and let everyone slap you on the ass,” he said, he told her one day while she was playing card games with two other cadets. While high-ranking officers heard the exchange, no one collided with the electrician or reported on it, the trial said. “Not only did senior Allfair Fairfax officials not impose anti-[sexual assault and sexual harassment] policies, but they were among the offenders, “it said.

The culture of fear at Merchant Marine Academy silences students who say they have been sexually harassed and assaulted

As detailed in her lawsuit, Midshipman-Y said she did not feel safe in her room because the other crew members had master keys that could open any room on the ship. So she slept on the floor in her locked bathroom and held a pocketknife in case the electrician tried to find her. She tried to seek help from the other woman on the ship, but the woman only shared her own stories of harassment. For weeks, she was unable to contact anyone outside the ship due to limited Wi-Fi and an unreliable satellite text messaging device provided to her by the academy, according to the case.

About 45 days after the voyage, she reached the port, where she finally managed to call her mother – who encouraged her to get off the ship. Although he knew that shortening his time at sea could mean he would not be able to finish, the lawsuit said, Midshipman-Y still requested an “emergency evacuation,” the lawsuit said.

“It will just keep happening”

The second case came from a student who published her explosive allegations that she was raped at sea under the pseudonym of Midshipman-X. On Tuesday, she identified herself in court records with her real name: Hope Hicks.

Hicks, in an interview with CNN, said hearing the midshipman-Y’s story of harassment on the same ship where she was allegedly attacked two years earlier shows how bad the situation is.

Hope Hicks, a student at the American Maritime Academy, wrote an anonymous account under the pseudonym

“It just shows that even if there is a change in people, there is no change in culture. Until it changes, it will just keep happening,” Hicks said, adding that she hoped her lawsuit would give other victims the courage to came out so that Maersk and other shipping companies were forced to create a safe working environment for female crew members who were significantly fewer in the industry.

When Hicks came out with his allegation of rape in a blog post last fall, it caught the attention of lawmakers and prompted Maersk to stop and later fire five crew members. However, the company said it was “unable to make any findings regarding the allegations of rape” as some officials refused to co-operate in the investigation. The Coast Guard is also investigating the alleged rape and referring the case to the Ministry of Justice, but prosecutors declined to comment on whether charges would be filed, citing the ongoing investigation. The Maritime Administration, which runs the academy, is temporary suspended Sea Year in November and later released a series of reforms aimed at better protecting students from sexual harassment and abuse.

In Hicks’ case, her lawyers claim that Maersk “has not taken insufficient measures to protect the teenage cadets who are in charge of it.” Allfair Fairfax’s only wife, Hicks, said she was ordered to go on behalf of other crew members to complete federal-level sexual assault and harassment training to have cadets on board. Hicks said crew members often watched her be sexually harassed by their ship’s captain and did nothing to intervene.

Then one evening, her superiors demanded that she leave her room and forced her to have multiple injections of alcohol, despite Maersk’s policy of “zero tolerance” for drugs and alcohol, her lawsuit said. The next morning she woke up and found blood on her sheets and bruises on her body. She said she knew immediately that she had been raped, but she was too scared – both of the revenge she could face and of the academic consequences – to report what had happened.

“If commanders are the ones who attack and harass you, who will you report to?” she told CNN. “These are the people you have to trust. I didn’t feel that school could protect me. I didn’t feel that the school would believe me. I certainly didn’t feel that anyone on my ship would believe me.

CNN reported earlier this year how school policies created significant barriers to reporting and investigating alleged attacks. The Maritime Administration declined to comment on the lawsuits, but previously acknowledged that more needs to be done to remove barriers to students’ ability to speak.

Strength in numbers

Both Hicks and Midshipman-Y have been seriously traumatized by what happened to them at sea, according to their lawsuits.

Shortly after returning to campus, Midshipman-Y says she became extremely ill from her anxiety – she eventually fainted in the dining room from a panic attack and was transported to the emergency room by ambulance. A good student before her time in the Alliance, according to the complaint, she struggled to focus on her studies and failed in three classes before being sent a notice of expulsion from the academy, which would require her to return tens of thousands of dollars to study or enroll. in the army.

She is appealing the academy’s decision and has suffered a “compassionate failure” by class 2025 and is currently living at home with her family, trying to recover from the trauma she suffered, her trial said.

Lawmakers are pushing for more reforms to prevent sexual violence at sea

The young woman, who worked to become a fighter pilot in the military, is unsure whether she will ever feel emotionally ready to return to campus – or go to sea to complete the training hours needed for graduation, her lawyers said. .

Hicks, meanwhile, said she had suffered from both depression and panic attacks – sometimes succumbing to uncontrollable tears. She celebrated her 22nd birthday on Tuesday and will graduate from the academy this weekend. Her rape, she said, destroyed the interest she had in pursuing a career as a merchant ship engineer. Instead, she said, she will join the Navy after graduating as an officer.

Hicks said she has been somewhat repulsed by her fellow students, who have learned that she is the anonymous student who has gone out and are worried that their Maritime Year training will be affected. But, she added, she is overwhelmed by the support she has received from many other students on campus and is determined to do her best to seek justice for what happened to her and others.

“The system makes it very difficult for the victims to get out. “I want to make others feel safe to come up with their own stories,” she said. “I will continue to fight for this cause until there is a real change. There is power in numbers; the more people show up, the better.”

Do you have experience or information about the American Maritime Academy or the Maritime Industry? Email us at watchdog@cnn.com.

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