“Sexual harassment is using what nature gave us to take what isn’t ours. It’s an act of violence not only against an individual, but the group — and it inevitably meets with the wrath of the group.” ~ Anthony Marais
The #MeToo Movement
The superyacht industry is not immune to the #MeToo movement. It was created by the American activist Tarana Burke in 2006, who showed solidarity on social media with others who had experienced sexual violence, which later extended to abuse, harassment, and exploitation.
The global numbers of those who had experienced sexual harassment were astounding. Many of the offenders who were outed in this movement were found to be owners and or guests of superyachts.
How Safe Are We?
The U.S. government states, “Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
When money, power, cultural diversity, and alcohol come together, the results can be disastrous …
So, how safe is it to work on superyachts and what can be done to prevent yourself from becoming a #MeToo statistic?
Picture this scenario: A chief stewardess who recently joined a yacht was full of excitement and looking forward to adventure and professional development on what she thought was a well-run 60-meter. The crew was the usual mix of up to six different nationalities. It was a privately run vessel with a moderately busy schedule in some interesting places with a European owner.
After just two weeks into the summer season, her hopes were dramatically dashed when the owner made some rude and sexual comments about her body to the other guests followed up by some vulgar sexual gestures.
While out at sea, the situation escalated when the owner trapped her in the master cabin, offering her money for sex then and there. She managed to remove herself from the cabin without further incident and collapsed in the corner of the galley, with the chef trying his best to calm down his distressed colleague.
The incident was immediately reported to the captain, who was legally responsible for her safety and wellbeing and therefore obliged to support her. However, she was bitterly disappointed. Instead of assisting her by discussing crew protocols and professional boundaries with the owner, he instead reported her to all the crew agencies in Mallorca, claiming insubordination with the intent of having her blacklisted across the board for making his life difficult with the owner.
With two days left of the charter, the chief stewardess remained back of house doing the work of the junior stewardess until the guests departed. She then departed the yacht within half an hour of the guests, wondering what just happened and counting her blessings for getting out of there in one piece.
Thinking that her career was over, the chief stewardess returned to the crew agent who placed her on board. And in a twist of justice, instead of the stewardess being blacklisted, the owner and captain were blacklisted for dangerous conduct. Unbeknownst to the stewardess, the yacht was already known to the agency for such incidents. The captain was duly informed that they would only place male stewards on board from then on.
How to Protect Yourself
It is important to note that sexual harassment is not reserved for one gender. When money, power, cultural diversity, and alcohol come together, the results can be disastrous, as seen with a rape case in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago.
The victim won her case, but many other incidents go unreported, so it could be argued that this problem is grossly underreported in our industry and is seemingly expected for the aggressor to always win. With further research on this matter, I have found other articles citing statistics and facts on how many crew are sexually harassed and how often, and the numbers are truly outrageous. So, what can be done about this problem?
Firstly, educate yourself. Read your employment contract properly. Know the yacht’s operating procedures and the STCW code well. Read and understand the yacht’s policy on bullying, harassment, and abuse. Document all unsolicited and undesirable attention and actions.
Next, take this evidence to your direct superior, or higher, if need be. You also can reach out to the Professional Yachting Association (PYA), or your seafarer’s union (Nautilus) to act as a mediator or to help you take legal action if required.
Ultimately, you are not responsible for the actions of others, but you are responsible for your safety. This may mean confronting your aggressor and “rocking the boat” to achieve a positive outcome.
This article originally ran in the August 2021 issue of Dockwalk.