On Thursday, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force released interim findings from an ongoing external study, conducted by consultants Self Solutions, investigating sexual assault and harassment at the academy and its at-sea training program.
The study, which is based on a combination of interviews and anonymous surveys of midshipmen and recent graduates, is intended to inform USMMA's review of harassment at the academy and to promote research-backed solutions.
The consultants found that the midshipmen surveyed were not worried about their safety at sea; that they lack confidence in academy leadership; and that all of them disagreed with the decision to suspend USMMA’s Sea Year at-sea training program.
USMMA's parent agencies, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Maritime Administration, suspended Sea Year in June, citing concerns over sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimidation and coercion.
DOT has commissioned a separate study of SA/SH at USMMA by the government consultancy Logistics Management Institute (LMI). The agency says that Sea Year will remain suspended on commercial vessels until LMI's review is complete.
The alumni association has been a vocal critic of the suspension, and has called for the full reinstatement of Sea Year on commercial vessels.
Study finds flawed methodology in campus survey
In addition to interviews with students, Self Solutions' report also scrutinizes USMMA’s Service Academy Gender Relations (SAGR) survey data, which DOT cited in its decision to suspend Sea Year.
The Self Solutions report asserts that based on the SAGR data, there is "no causal connection between Sea Year and incidences of sexual assault and harassment on campus [and] no evidence that suspending Sea Year will effectively address the issue."
In addition, it concludes that methodological shortcomings in the SAGR survey make it ill-suited as a basis for decisionmaking. Notably, an analyst for Self Solutions found that the SAGR survey asked midshipmen about incidents that occurred over the span of an 18-month period, which is seven months longer than the period covered in surveys at the other service academies. This could be expected to skew the results for USMMA, Self Solutions concluded.
“Though our study is not final, we believe it is essential to share our findings at this critical moment,” said task force chair Capt. Eileen Roberson, USNR (Ret.). “We cannot risk the Department of Transportation acting in the coming weeks in reliance on statistically-flawed data that presents a misleading picture.”
Senate passes new measures for SA/SH prevention at USMMA and NOAA
Separately, on Thursday, the conference version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA) passed the Senate, including an amendment intended to help prevent SA/SH at USMMA. The bill now heads to the president’s desk.
The new language:
- ensures midshipmen receive annual training on sexual assault prevention and response;
- requires the USMMA to designate and train volunteer sexual assault victim advocates;
- ensures the USMMA employs a full-time sexual assault response coordinator at or near campus;
- guarantees access to a 24-hour support and reporting hotline;
- and strengthens oversight and reporting for the sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and response program at the USMMA.
The NDAA also includes measures for the prevention of SA/SH at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including a requirement for NOAA to create and adopt an SA/SH policy.