Gil­li­brand eyes pol­icy changes at Ma­rine Academy

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Frank Elt­man

U.S. Mer­chant Ma­rine Academy cadets should be given satel­lite phones or other de­vices that would make it eas­ier for them to re­port sexual abuse or ha­rass­ment when they are at sea work­ing as in­terns on com­mer­cial ves­sels, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand said Tues­day.

The pro­posal was one of sev­eral pol­icy ini­tia­tives the New York Demo­crat said she plans to in­tro­duce in the Se­nate af­ter academy lead­er­ship halted a pro­gram that places cadets on com­mer­cial ves­sels amid con­cerns of al­leged abuse.

Academy ad­min­is­tra­tors say sexual abuse sur­veys, in­ter­views with cadets re­turn­ing from the Sea Year pro­gram and other feed­back led to the de­ci­sion last sum­mer to pull per­son­nel off com­mer­cial ves­sels.

The Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, which runs the mil­i­tary academy, has since placed cadets on gov­ern­ment ves­sels to earn cred­its while it stud­ies ways to stem al­leged in­ci­dents of sexual abuse, bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment, both at sea and at the cam­pus in sub­ur­ban Long Is­land.

Crit­ics of the de­ci­sion, in­clud­ing some alumni and par­ents of mid­ship­men, in­sist work­ing on gov­ern­ment ships is a weak sub­sti­tute for the vig­or­ous train­ing cadets get on in­dus­try ves­sels. The lead­ers of four mar­itime unions also dis­pute find­ings that cadets are be­ing abused.

But Gil­li­brand ar­gued the tem­po­rary stand-down is nec­es­sary un­til ad­min­is­tra­tors and oth­ers can be as­sured per­son­nel are safe. She cited a 2014-15 sur­vey of mid­ship­men that found 63 per­cent of women and 11 per­cent of men had been sex­u­ally ha­rassed, and 17 per­cent of women had been sex­u­ally as­saulted.

She noted that de­spite the find­ings, only one case was re­ported to academy of­fi­cials be­cause many feared re­tal­i­a­tion, both from class­mates at the academy and from per­son­nel on the com­mer­cial ves­sels.

“This scourge of sexual violence and ha­rass­ment de­mands im­me­di­ate ac­tion,” she said.

Gil­li­brand also is propos­ing the academy be re­quired to com­ply with Ti­tle IX, the fed­eral law that pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on gen­der. She said un­like the other ser­vice academies, which are over­seen by the Depart­ment of De­fense, the U.S. Mer­chant Ma­rine Academy is not sub­ject to the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice.

She also called for the es­tab­lish­ment of a sexual as­sault helpline, bet­ter train­ing of staff and mid­ship­men on pre­vent­ing as­sault, and a pro­gram of spot checks on com­mer­cial ves­sels where mid­ship­men are work­ing.

Two sep­a­rate in­quiries — one by ad­min­is­tra­tors and a sec­ond by the academy’s alumni as­so­ci­a­tion — are look­ing into the is­sue of sexual ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing.

Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent James Tobin said af­ter Tues­day’s press con­fer­ence that he’s hope­ful Gil­li­brand’s ini­tia­tives would pro­duce pos­i­tive re­sults.

FRANK ELT­MAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A ship’s pro­pel­ler is dis­played in front of the U.S. Mer­chant Ma­rine Academy’s Mu­seum at the school’s cam­pus, Tues­day in Kings Point, N.Y.

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