Senators Collins, Reed Lead Hearing on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, held a hearing today titled, “Protecting Our Midshipmen: Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.”

Today's hearing focused on ways to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, NY, one of the five U.S. Service Academies, and examined the status of the Academy’s educational accreditation. The Committee also discussed the results of USMMA’s anonymous survey and report on sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“When parents send their children off to college, the last thing they expect is for them to endure repugnant and at times criminal behavior. Since parents entrust their children to our nation’s service academies, we bear the responsibility to ensure the safety of the young people enrolled,” said Chairman Collins. “The good news today is that current leadership at the Academy and at the Maritime Administration have shown a willingness to provide the necessary training and assistance, and more important, to change the culture and environment at the Academy. I want to assure the midshipmen, parents, and everyone associated with the Academy, that this is a problem we can solve, and absolutely must solve.”

“As with any other institution of higher education, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for its students and faculty, and it must act with a much greater sense of urgency to address the increasing reports of sexual assault and harassment,” said Ranking Member Reed. “By all accounts, the Maritime Administration was inexcusably slow to administer the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009. This is an issue that cannot be solved with any one remedy or policy. It will take a concerted effort and multifaceted approach from the top down.”

“We acknowledge and commend the Department [of Transportation], [the Maritime Administration], and USMMA for their renewed focus on transforming USMMA’s culture, closely examining its Sea Year, and better supporting victims of sexual assault and harassment,” said Cal Scovel, the U.S. Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “However, as both our prior work and recent developments have shown, the Academy’s success will hinge upon its ability to carry out strong follow-through and sustained attention at the highest levels.”

Sexual assault and harassment have long been persistent problems at USMMA. While current leadership has been working to improve training and change the culture at USMMA, the issue remains widespread. In a preliminary survey from the 2015-2016 academic year, 19.5 percent of women reported having been sexually assaulted, and 60 percent of women reported having been sexually harassed.

In June 2016, the severity of this issue led then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to temporarily suspend the Sea Year program, where midshipmen train on commercial shipping vessels, until the safety of all midshipmen could be guaranteed. The program has since been reinstated with specific requirements that promote a safe, zero tolerance environment. The Academy is also at risk of losing its accreditation over the failure to adequately address sexual assault and harassment incidents.

Hearing witnesses included:

  • Joel Szabat, Executive Director, Maritime Administration (MARAD). Read his statement HERE.
  • Rear Admiral James Helis, Superintendent, USMMA. Read his statement HERE.
  • Cal Scovel, Inspector General, DOT. Read his statement HERE.