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Report: Seven Midshipmen Abused by USMMA Soccer Team Seniors

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By The Maritime Executive 05-10-2019 05:02:38

The sexual assault and sexual harassment scandal that dogged the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2016-2017 has largely subsided, but it could now be revived by an investigative report suggesting that at least seven midshipmen on the USMMA men's soccer team were sexually abused by their teammates.

In early 2017, one former midshipman at USMMA reported a specific sexual assault incident that occurred in September 2016 on the team's bus. He has since filed an administrative claim against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, in addition to a civil lawsuit against seven alleged perperators and three coaches. 

USMMA took action after the incident was reported. The seniors in the class of 2017 who were accused of participating in this incident were temporarily prohibited from graduating pending an investigation. After administrative hearings, they were allowed to graduate with full diplomas and credentials in November 2017. The school's soccer team was temporarily suspended, and was not reinstated until February 2018.

In April 2017, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched an investigation into the allegations of abuse aboard the soccer team's bus. The report for that investigation was completed in August 2018, and through the efforts of the plaintiff in the suit, it has recently been made public in redacted form.

Based on interviews with 34 USMMA midshipmen and personnel, the OIG determined that at least seven freshmen - and possibly more -  were assaulted by soccer team seniors at the back of the team bus while on travel for the USMMA. The victims described the assaults to be "of a sexual nature" and an established part of the ritual for inducting plebe members into the team. The details of the allegation are not suitable for publication, but they may be found in the redacted OIG report here and in the first victim's description of the assault here.

Thomas M. Grasso, the lawyer for the plaintiff in the claim against DOT, has called for the Board of Visitors - the oversight committee for USMMA - to inquire into these allegations and to pursue accountability for those who allowed abuse to continue. "We strongly encourage the Board of Visitors to press MARAD for answers to this scandal. "It is no longer an 'ongoing investigation' with any federal agency and there is no reason for questions not to be answered in the public domain. We can all agree that there is no excuse for this type of conduct anywhere in a civilized society, let alone at a service academy of the United States," said Grasso. "It is vitally important that present and prospective students and their families can trust the Academy and feel safe that they will not be targeted or their personal dignity violated."