Our Letter to Midshipman X / Rape at Sea — STELL & SNUGGS

Let me say first that as a father of two young ladies, one of whom is enrolled as MIDN at an academy, this is a scenario that has plagued me as a nightmare. Not just as a possibility — within her first year it became clear how much of a real possibility this is, and seeing how incidents are dealt with there only serves to clarify the acceptance of this kind of behavior by many who not only work in the maritime industry as officers but also as leaders, administrators, and instructors at the very institutions that educate the workforce. Neither you nor any other woman (or man) in this field should have to deal with psychopathic criminals as crew mates — and as I hope you know, this occurred due to the calculated actions of a criminal — one that is a detriment to humanity on every level, and one who should never be permitted to be so much as an oil wiper. He belongs in prison, plain and simple.

I have had to deal with the administration of the academy regarding sexual harassment issues on more than one occasion, thankfully for nothing as serious as this. I have found it astonishing, though, that there is such a strong disposition to NOT deal with this issue properly, even from leading women who have been in the field long enough to know better. I know that they themselves have experienced different levels of sexual harassment and/ or assault, but somehow the industry-wide inclination to keep Title IX incidents under wraps has trained even them to coercion.

Secondly, I thank you for your courage in making this public. I am sure it was difficult, but I also hope that it was healing for you in some way. Only through bravery such as this does this business have a chance at changing, and although there are many within the industry who will resist, know that most of the modern world’s population is behind you without question — my entire family as well as the two dozen or so individuals in the field with whom I work included. We have all read this article and shared it with everyone we know in the industry, from small vessel captains and crew to retired navy personnel, oil rig workers, and tug crew. I have asked all of them to seriously consider sharing this article, commenting, and committing to ending this egregious practice immediately — even if it means destroying professional relationships. We simply must create enough momentum throughout, and prove that there are more of “us” than “them.”

I am a licensed Captain — small vessels, mostly sailing. I’ve raised my two children on board with my wife of 25 years, and my work includes running small tugs, sailing vessels, ferries, deliveries, etc. While my meager 60,000 sea miles running my own vessels may seem a pittance to many, they are all on small vessels, mostly blue water running sailing vessels in the 40' range. Many of them qualify as hard miles, for certain. There is no room for deferment, where reliance and trust in your few crewmates is absolutely essential — at times essential for your very survival. I have seen many times how women at sea deliver as complete equals to their male counterparts, and in most cases with superior clarity and endurance. The misogynistic attitude of this “old guard,” if you will, is one that comes out of fear of replacement, plain and simple. Women harbor not only the creation of life but an even stronger instinctive will to preserve it at all costs. In that basic biological fact alone, I think the industry misses the mark in failing to defend an able woman’s place within the crew of a vessel.

This attitude in the industry is an abhorrent one, one that is consistently swept under the rug by officials who not only fully understand how damaging it is to the individuals involved, but how destructive it is to the industry as a whole. The unfortunate reality, I feel, is that only through hitting the pockets of the industry will real change be forged. While Title IX is federal code, the lack of will to enforce it at sea is alive and well in 2021. If only every woman who was sexually harassed while onboard vessels owned by large corporations such as Maersk were given the opportunity and resources necessary to file a class-action lawsuit that was public, where they are forced to pay out proper damages that would also hurt the company’s bottom line and PR, possibly then we might see a culture change. Of course, this would not be borne out of some moral compass, but out of protecting profits — regardless of the law, corporations are not human beings but mechanisms to profit. Money is their sustenance, and if they must be starved, so be it. As I search for information on this matter, it looks more and more as though these companies have gotten away with continuously settling out of court on a case-by-case basis, forcing accusers to sign NDA’s and keeping details hidden in the dark. It is definitively time to change this tactic and expose this culture once and for all. As they say in war if you wish to understand the reason behind it, follow the money. Taking away the lavish clothing we often find the king to be weak in both constitution and capacity, while the queen at his side harbors the strength to create life, and is the key to the bloodline’s survival. While this is an archaic metaphor, the soul of it rings true and forever will.

To our fellow male sailors who are reading and contributing here, I say this — if you have been working in the business for even a short time, YOU HAVE SEEN SEXUAL HARASSMENT, ABUSE, ASSAULT. You know this happens, and YOU KNOW WHO THE GUILTY PARTIES ARE. While you may have the strength in life to not be that person, your silence makes you complicit in the action. Stand true to your moral compass, and be a part of the seawall that stops this culture dead in the water. Only then can you honestly say you are a sailor with courage enough to ply the oceans of the world? Until then, you are riding on the backs of those who use acts of deceit, treachery, abuse, and assault to exhibit their strength. Your actions will be forever clouded by theirs, and therefore lack significance. Make your numbers known, knock the old guard off their throne and REMOVE THEM FROM THEIR POSITIONS OF POWER. They do not deserve to be your or any others’ superior. They do not deserve even to scrub the head.

To my fellow female sailors — your passage is a difficult one. While the demands of your work lie well within your grasp, the conditions within which you must perform will prove turbulent at best. You must work together to solve this conundrum, you must find allies in your male counterparts and DEMAND their assistance. Do not allow them to cower in their bunks, knowing that where there is one there are many more. You may feel they need to lead this cause, but that is untrue. THEY NEED YOU TO LEAD. While officers and captains may dismiss one with ease, they have a very difficult time dismissing a dozen. As our numbers grow your position becomes irrefutable.

As in all forms of battle, use your endurance to your advantage. Plan your course of action as far in advance as you can muster. Don’t just be smarter, know that you ARE smarter. When these criminals round the corner to their quarters thinking they have won only to find shields and handcuffs, and when the corporate interests find bonuses have disappeared in the wake of litigation, your silent rejoicing will echo a triumph not only around the world but through time itself.

** If you have experienced sexual assault, sexual violence, or rape, and need help, please contact Women Offshore or email them at hello@womenoffshore.org

You do not have to go through this alone. We see you, we support you, and we love you.

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Musician/Full Time Sailor (Stell & Snuggs)

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Christel Renee Astin

Christel Renee Astin

Musician/Full Time Sailor (Stell & Snuggs)

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