US Merchant Marine Academy students sue over alleged sexual misconduct

Associated Press

Two female U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen filed related complaints on Wednesday, alleging that shipping giant Maersk “failed to adequately protect them from sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

Hope Hicks, one of the midshipmen, came forward with her allegations of harassment last year but only publicly disclosed her name on Wednesday. 

In the complaint, Hicks said one of the ship’s top-ranking officers, who was 40 years her senior, raped her in addition to other harassment. Hicks was the only woman aboard her vessel, her lawyers said in a press release.

The other woman, known as Midshipman-Y, was “so severely sexually harassed” during her time on the Maersk ship that she “slept clutching a knife for protection,” according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.  

The complaint detailed her harassment, saying that another crew member, who was known to be “violent,” subjected her to “extreme sexual harassment, unwanted touching and discrimination.”

Though crewmembers and officers were reportedly aware of the misconduct, which took place on the same ship as Hicks’s alleged rape, “no one intervened or reported the misconduct,” the press release added. 

Both women were part of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s “Sea Year” program, which requires months of work on a commercial ship in order to fulfill graduation requirements.

In 2016, then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx suspended the program “amid allegations of rampant sexual assaults and harassment of cadets during Sea Year voyages,” according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. 

The program, however, was reinstated the following year. 

“Maersk acknowledged that it owes a special duty of care to USMMA cadets, yet even after the Sea Year program was reinstated in 2017, Maersk failed to implement and enforce adequate policies and procedures to protect these young women,” Steven J. Kelly, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The Hill has reached out to Maersk for comment. 

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