New report reveals multiple cases of sexual harassment at prestigious school for naval cadets

In the past 3.5 years, there have been 26 cases of sexual assault and harassment of students on the US school USMMA, a new report evinces. It it likely just the tip of the iceberg, lawyer estimates.
Midshipman Hope Hicks came forward and shed her anonymity when she reported of being raped aboard a Maersk-owned vessel. | Photo: Maritime Legal Solutions
Midshipman Hope Hicks came forward and shed her anonymity when she reported of being raped aboard a Maersk-owned vessel. | Photo: Maritime Legal Solutions

A new report reveals the extent of sexual assaults and harassments at the prestigious United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) where former Maersk midshipman Hope Hicks received her education. 

In the 3.5 years from July 2019 to December 2022, there were 26 reported cases of sexual assault at USMMA. The reported cases are divided among the three classes of 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022. There has also been cases for the first half-year of 2022-2023.

The report includes cases of sexual assault and harassment, gender-based harassment, relationship violence, and stalking, all against students of the school.

Furthermore, the report includes 35 reported cases in the category of ”sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, relationship violence, and stalking.” The report shows an increase in the number of cases in this category, from four cases in 2019/2020 to ten cases in the first half-year of 2022-2023 alone.

The tip of the iceberg

The report comes in the wake of the two cases of female naval cadets, Hope Hicks (alias Midshipman X) and the anonymous Midshipman Y, who were raped and sexually assaulted, respectively, aboard the Maersk vessel Alliance Fairfax. The former atrocity happened in 2019 and the latter in 2021.

The two women’s lawyer, Christine Dunn, partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp, welcomes the USMMA report.

”This is the first time the USMMA is reporting on sexual assault and harassment in such detail. This is an important first step towards addressing the problem. But it is only the beginning,” she states in written statement, adding that there has likely been many more assaults and harassments than stated in the report.

”While the numbers in the new USMMA are disturbingly high, they are likely only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual assault and harassment, especially at sea, aren’t being reported because cadets are afraid of retaliation. The numbers in the report vastly underestimate the extent of the problem,” Dunn explains.

The report covers both cases that have happened at USMMA, onsite, as well as cases that took place at sea as part the educational program ”Sea Year.”

In 14 of the 26 cases of sexual assault, the accused aggressors were midshipmen themselves. In eight cases, the suspects were crew members.

In the remaining four cases, one states its perpetrator as ”civilian” and the final three simply state ”other.”

The cases are either classified as ”restricted” or ”unrestricted,” based on whether the case is handled internally at USMMA or with the possible assistance from law enforcement, sparking an official investigation.

In five of 26 cases of sexual assault, an official investigation took place.

As a result of the reported cases, the past couple of years seen several initiatives meant to combat the issues at hand.

Among others, 14 shipping companies have joined a program with several preventive measures to implement in order to warrant having cadets aboard.

USMMA’s report states that the school understands that the first step in an ongoing effort is to improve safety for naval cadets – both on at sea and on campus.

”The U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to continuing to work closely with Congress – and with USMMA Midshipmen, leadership, faculty, and staff as well as industry; labor; the State Maritime Academies; our Federal partners; and other stakeholders-to advance urgently needed culture change throughout the maritime industry to strengthen safety for all mariners,” the report concludes in its foreword. 

English edit: Christian Radich Hoffman

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