Sexual harassment: yachting says #MeToo
A recent court case shines light on sexual harassment within the yachting industry…
For anyone who has been reading the news or active on social media recently, the conversation surrounding sexual assault in our society is at the forefront of many discussions, in many industries. The entertainment industry in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and others is under a microscope, with both women and men coming forward to report the unwanted sexual encounters and behaviours that they have experienced. The #MeToo movement on social media showcases how widespread sexual assault and harassment is in the daily lives of many people.
This, as well as the recent report of a female crewmember being awarded a significant compensation for an incident aboard a yacht in Fort Lauderdale, has raised the conversation within the yachting sphere. As recently detailed in this article by The Sun Sentinel, in 2015 a female crewmember reported that her male colleague (a deckhand who was working on the yacht) raped her on board M/Y Endless Summer. The deckhand pleaded guilty to sexual battery in December 2016, and the yacht's parent company was ordered to pay $70 million in compensation to the victim. The judge awarded this on the basis of lost wages, lost future earnings, medical expenses and for pain and suffering as a result of the incident. A key reason for the conviction (cited by the court) was the lack of protection for the victim. According to reports, she did not have a walkie-talkie to call for safety and there was only one other crewmember on board the yacht at the time who, unfortunately, did not hear her screaming for help. The prosecutors argued that the yacht's parent company was responsible for overseeing such a negligent environment.
Many in the industry will use this case to discuss the legal ramifications moving forward; what precedents has this set for owners? How will this influence future cases? These are all valid questions, and ones that warrant a discussion. However, I want to focus on the human side of this story: crew who may have suffered similar experiences. Are situations like this endemic in the yachting sphere or are the instances few and far between? I spoke to a number of ex-crew, all of whom wished to remain anonymous, to give them an opportunity to share their experiences.
"This is unfortunately a very sad reality in the industry," begins Amy*. "I know of a few incidents where girls have been in similar situations, luckily none of them as bad as what was reported [by The Sun Sentinel]. I myself unfortunately experienced unwanted attentions from a male crewmember to the point where he came into my cabin drunk and pulled me out of my bunk, I was lucky as there were other people there."
Amy, who worked as a stewardess for many years, reported this incident to senior crew on board her yacht, but her worries were dismissed. "When I reported it to the captain, he told me that the guy (who was a chef) was very good and well-liked by the guests, so they couldn't really do anything, and I shouldn't encourage him! It was my first yacht and quite a shock. I left of course." This echoes the high-profile reports of other incidents, where the victims were either dismissed or hushed up by the perpetrators.
"When I reported it to the captain, he told me that the guy (who was a chef) was very good and well-liked by the guests, so they couldn't really do anything, and I shouldn't encourage him! It was my first yacht and quite a shock. I left of course."
"It is not unusual for stewardesses to lock their cabins to prevent unwanted visits in the night from drunk crew," adds Amy. She then references the ongoing conversation about consent prevalent in the current climate, where those at 'fault' for the crime are actually the victim. "With alcohol being involved and the way society is, it is often blamed on the girl for having sent out the wrong messages, or because she is passed out and can't actually defend herself from unwanted advances."
"With alcohol being involved and the way society is, it is often blamed on the girl for having sent out the wrong messages, or because she is passed out and can't actually defend herself from unwanted advances."
However, she also reports another incident where the issue was dealt with swiftly and compassionately, explaining that she had worked with captains of "the utmost integrity who would have not hesitated in sorting the issue out". Amy recalls an incident where a temporary crewmember raped a stewardess who had passed out in her cabin. In this case, several other crew were aware of the stewardess' condition and, when they went to check on her, walked in on the assault taking place. "They were able to intervene and the captain was alerted. He called the police and had the guy arrested on the spot. The stewardess was sent to hospital to be examined and for a rape test. She was sent home with the full support of the boat and its owners to recover mentally from the ordeal, and he was charged and prosecuted."
When I was speaking to another ex-stewardess, Kim*, she was shocked at the lack of protection that the victim had on board, mirroring the Judge's decision in the M/Y Endless Summer case to assign blame to the yacht. "Everyone should have a radio on them at all times. That's the captain and chief officer's responsibility. The captain is responsible for all the crew," she explains.
Unfortunately, Kim was not surprised by Amy's account of her experiences on board, when faced with unwanted advances from a fellow crewmember. "There is a huge issue of hierarchy. Captains or owners would rather get rid of a junior crewmember than someone more senior, if there was ever an issue," she offers. In her experience, as the ratio between junior roles and crew looking for work is so disproportionate, junior crew deemed as 'making trouble' are seen as easily replaceable.
Admitting the problem of alcohol-fuelled antics on board yachts amongst crew, Kim explained that the more common issues of unwanted sexual behaviour is perpetrated by charter guests or the owners themselves. "When it comes to sexual assaults or uncomfortable situations, it's more the guests that crew need to be worried about, or the owners," she explains. "They feel like they can do whatever they want." In any instances where this occured, Kim relied on senior crew, such as the captain or chief officer, to defuse the situation.
Sadly, incidents of sexual assault and harassment are often underreported. This is not just within the yachting sphere, but in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the court case of M/Y Endless Summer, if any crew are victims of assault, hopefully they will feel able to come forward to report the crimes committed. Although the ex-crew I spoke to for this article are all female, male crew often are subject to sexual harassment as well, and their experiences should also form a core part of the conversation. Vigilance against these crimes and support for the victims, such as demonstrated by the captain in Amy's second story, are a positive sign when discussing this troubling topic.
*Names have been changed.
If you have been affected by any similar situations and wish to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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