Cadets at the USMMA reported a dozen incidents of sexual assault in the 2022-23 academic year, double the number from a year earlier. Credit: Newsday

United States Merchant Marine Academy cadets reported a dozen incidents of sexual assault during the 2022-23 academic year — double the number from one year earlier, despite widespread efforts by the Kings Point-based institution to combat allegations of sexual misconduct dating back more than a decade.

The academy's new 19-page report on the subject paints the most comprehensive picture to date of the continued pervasiveness of sexual violence and harassment. The long-standing problems have rattled one of the nation's five federal service academies, and the first to admit women.

The annual report, which was submitted to congressional lawmakers last week, shows the USMMA received nine reports of sexual assault from female cadets and three from men during the 2022-23 academic year. There were six such reports in 2021-22; nine in 2020-21; and six in 2019-20, according to an earlier report released by the academy in 2023.

J. Ryan Melogy, a maritime employment attorney who has represented several former USMMA cadets that alleged being sexually assaulted during the school's Sea Year program, in which midshipmen complete more than 300 days of work on commercial vessels in international waters, called the data “extremely troubling.” 

“In the best case, the true rates of sexual harassment and assault at the Academy have remained outrageously and unacceptably high despite increased congressional oversight,” Melogy said. “In the worst case, there is actually an increasing trend of sexual harassment and assault at the Academy. Both possibilities are unacceptable and more must be done.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous cadet survey included in the 2024 report indicates the percentage of midshipmen alleging sexual assaults may be higher than the reported allegations.

Seven of the 12 allegations addressed in the report on the 2022-23 academic year were “restricted,” meaning the incident was disclosed to a sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate, but no official investigation was requested.

Five cases were “unrestricted,” including two that resulted in an administrative investigation and the option for the victim to notify law enforcement. In one instance, the subject of the investigation, a male midshipman, resigned from the academy, while in the other, the male cadet received unspecified discipline.

In a third case, the victim didn't participate in the investigation. Two unrestricted reports were made by a third party. In both cases, the subject's identity was unknown, while in one instance the victim's identity was not disclosed to school officials. The report doesn't indicate how many cases resulted in criminal investigations.

Ten of the investigation subjects were male; one was female and the gender of the 12th was not known, the report said. One subject was a crew member, while 10 were midshipmen and the other was unknown. 

Cadets also reported 19 instances of sexual harassment, stalking or relationship violence during the 2022-23 school year, a nearly 27% increase from the 15 incidents in 2021-22.

They include 12 reports of sexual harassment, two cases each of gender-based harassment, retaliation and relationship violence and one of stalking. In total, 13 reported victims were female and six were men. 

Five of the investigation subjects were male cadets: two were male USMMA employees who combined to allegedly harass five females and three were male crew members. Three subjects were female cadets; one was a female crew member; one was a male at-sea contractor and one case involved multiple subjects of mixed genders.

One subject, a male midshipman, resigned from the academy while six others were disciplined or received counseling, the report states.

In a statement, the federal Maritime Administration, a U.S. Department of Transportation agency which oversees the USMMA, said victims now feel more confident in safely reporting their assaults.

“As a result, we can expect to see an uptick in reporting — not unlike what other service academies experienced when introducing SASH [Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment] prevention measures,” the agency said. “We continue to focus on addressing reported incidents, supporting those who do report, and ensuring accountability for perpetrators.”

Congressional lawmakers said cases of sexual assaults at the USMMA were undoubtedly underreported for years.

“Sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence have plagued both the maritime industry and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored legislation that strengthened prevention, training, investigations and accountability at the USMMA. “I worked hard to address this scourge by building a system that gives midshipmen more confidence in their safety and ability to come forward.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who sits on the USMMA’s oversight board, said the new data reflects “efforts to encourage more reporting. Midshipmen now trust the system and feel comfortable enough to come forward and file incident reports.”

The report also details the results of the USMMA's anonymous, congressionally mandated Service Academy Gender Relations survey.

More than 26% of female cadets surveyed, and nearly 3% of male midshipmen, said they'd been sexually assaulted during the 2021-22 academic year. In 2018, the last year the academy conducted the survey, the figures were 11% and 1.4%.

“By spending four years at the academy, and facing a 25% chance of being assaulted each year, few women will graduate from the academy without being sexually assaulted at some point,” Melogy said.

Roughly 60% of the USMMA's 209 female cadets, and 11% of its 741 male cadets, said they'd experienced sexual harassment during the 2021-22 academic year, according to the survey. In 2018, the figures were 41% and 4%.

The “findings do not indicate the reason for the reported increases compared to 2018, but the Academy is determined to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and well-being of its midshipmen,” the report states.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which trains cadets to work on deep sea vessels and in the military, has been the subject of years of complaints of sexual abuse and harassment, which twice prompted the suspension of the Sea Year program.

The most recent suspension, which was lifted in December 2021, was prompted when then-cadet Hope Hicks reported, anonymously at the time, to a whistleblower website that an engineering supervisor 40 years her senior plied her with alcohol, waited until she was incapacitated and raped her on a commercial ship. Hicks disclosed her identity after filing a lawsuit against shipping giant Maersk. She settled the suit in 2022.

Her disclosure prompted implementation of the Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture program, which dictates policies that vessel operators must implement to prevent sexual misconduct. They include controlling access to the vessel's master keys, as well as ensuring there are working locks on cadets’ stateroom doors and that they have a contact at the carriers’ corporate offices to discuss areas of concern.

Shipping companies must be enrolled in the program before they're permitted to train cadets. To date, 19 commercial vessel companies are enrolled in program.

United States Merchant Marine Academy cadets reported a dozen incidents of sexual assault during the 2022-23 academic year — double the number from one year earlier, despite widespread efforts by the Kings Point-based institution to combat allegations of sexual misconduct dating back more than a decade.

The academy's new 19-page report on the subject paints the most comprehensive picture to date of the continued pervasiveness of sexual violence and harassment. The long-standing problems have rattled one of the nation's five federal service academies, and the first to admit women.

The annual report, which was submitted to congressional lawmakers last week, shows the USMMA received nine reports of sexual assault from female cadets and three from men during the 2022-23 academic year. There were six such reports in 2021-22; nine in 2020-21; and six in 2019-20, according to an earlier report released by the academy in 2023.

J. Ryan Melogy, a maritime employment attorney who has represented several former USMMA cadets that alleged being sexually assaulted during the school's Sea Year program, in which midshipmen complete more than 300 days of work on commercial vessels in international waters, called the data “extremely troubling.” 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Cadets from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point reported a dozen incidents of sexual assault during the 2022-23 academic year, double the number from one year earlier.
  • Allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation, stalking and relationship violence also increased among cadets of the USMMA, one of five federal service academies.
  • The increases come despite years of policy and legal changes, increased training protocols and enhanced oversight, designed to combat allegations of sexual misconduct dating back more than a decade.

“In the best case, the true rates of sexual harassment and assault at the Academy have remained outrageously and unacceptably high despite increased congressional oversight,” Melogy said. “In the worst case, there is actually an increasing trend of sexual harassment and assault at the Academy. Both possibilities are unacceptable and more must be done.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous cadet survey included in the 2024 report indicates the percentage of midshipmen alleging sexual assaults may be higher than the reported allegations.

Seven of the 12 allegations addressed in the report on the 2022-23 academic year were “restricted,” meaning the incident was disclosed to a sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate, but no official investigation was requested.

Five cases were “unrestricted,” including two that resulted in an administrative investigation and the option for the victim to notify law enforcement. In one instance, the subject of the investigation, a male midshipman, resigned from the academy, while in the other, the male cadet received unspecified discipline.

In a third case, the victim didn't participate in the investigation. Two unrestricted reports were made by a third party. In both cases, the subject's identity was unknown, while in one instance the victim's identity was not disclosed to school officials. The report doesn't indicate how many cases resulted in criminal investigations.

Ten of the investigation subjects were male; one was female and the gender of the 12th was not known, the report said. One subject was a crew member, while 10 were midshipmen and the other was unknown. 

More trust seen in reporting system

Cadets also reported 19 instances of sexual harassment, stalking or relationship violence during the 2022-23 school year, a nearly 27% increase from the 15 incidents in 2021-22.

They include 12 reports of sexual harassment, two cases each of gender-based harassment, retaliation and relationship violence and one of stalking. In total, 13 reported victims were female and six were men. 

Five of the investigation subjects were male cadets: two were male USMMA employees who combined to allegedly harass five females and three were male crew members. Three subjects were female cadets; one was a female crew member; one was a male at-sea contractor and one case involved multiple subjects of mixed genders.

One subject, a male midshipman, resigned from the academy while six others were disciplined or received counseling, the report states.

In a statement, the federal Maritime Administration, a U.S. Department of Transportation agency which oversees the USMMA, said victims now feel more confident in safely reporting their assaults.

“As a result, we can expect to see an uptick in reporting — not unlike what other service academies experienced when introducing SASH [Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment] prevention measures,” the agency said. “We continue to focus on addressing reported incidents, supporting those who do report, and ensuring accountability for perpetrators.”

Congressional lawmakers said cases of sexual assaults at the USMMA were undoubtedly underreported for years.

“Sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence have plagued both the maritime industry and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored legislation that strengthened prevention, training, investigations and accountability at the USMMA. “I worked hard to address this scourge by building a system that gives midshipmen more confidence in their safety and ability to come forward.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who sits on the USMMA’s oversight board, said the new data reflects “efforts to encourage more reporting. Midshipmen now trust the system and feel comfortable enough to come forward and file incident reports.”

Troubling survey results

The report also details the results of the USMMA's anonymous, congressionally mandated Service Academy Gender Relations survey.

More than 26% of female cadets surveyed, and nearly 3% of male midshipmen, said they'd been sexually assaulted during the 2021-22 academic year. In 2018, the last year the academy conducted the survey, the figures were 11% and 1.4%.

“By spending four years at the academy, and facing a 25% chance of being assaulted each year, few women will graduate from the academy without being sexually assaulted at some point,” Melogy said.

Roughly 60% of the USMMA's 209 female cadets, and 11% of its 741 male cadets, said they'd experienced sexual harassment during the 2021-22 academic year, according to the survey. In 2018, the figures were 41% and 4%.

The “findings do not indicate the reason for the reported increases compared to 2018, but the Academy is determined to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and well-being of its midshipmen,” the report states.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which trains cadets to work on deep sea vessels and in the military, has been the subject of years of complaints of sexual abuse and harassment, which twice prompted the suspension of the Sea Year program.

The most recent suspension, which was lifted in December 2021, was prompted when then-cadet Hope Hicks reported, anonymously at the time, to a whistleblower website that an engineering supervisor 40 years her senior plied her with alcohol, waited until she was incapacitated and raped her on a commercial ship. Hicks disclosed her identity after filing a lawsuit against shipping giant Maersk. She settled the suit in 2022.

Her disclosure prompted implementation of the Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture program, which dictates policies that vessel operators must implement to prevent sexual misconduct. They include controlling access to the vessel's master keys, as well as ensuring there are working locks on cadets’ stateroom doors and that they have a contact at the carriers’ corporate offices to discuss areas of concern.

Shipping companies must be enrolled in the program before they're permitted to train cadets. To date, 19 commercial vessel companies are enrolled in program.

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