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I was recently invited to present on the panel at the Monaco Yacht Show on sexual harassment. At the Sea Changes forum, the PYA publicised the results of the sexual harassment survey and shared sexual harassment cases from both female and male crew. The results were shocking.

Already we are beginning to see the positive impact that this forum has had on those who attended. Since the forum, we have received reports that crew have already started to take action by initiating open discussions and developing their own behavioural guidelines on how to deal with sexual harassment on board. I encourage you all to reflect on your respective workplace culture and whether it is something to be proud of or is there room for change?

These sort of dysfunctional behaviours that are occurring are defacing the industry’s claim to a 7 star industry. Poor leadership whether it be from Heads of Departments or whether it be occurring in onshore yachting related organisations, is totally unacceptable and needs to be addressed with the utmost priority.

Sexual assault and harassment is dealt with very seriously in the corporate world and there are no excuses for the repercussions of such behaviour to be managed any differently within the yachting industry. Realistically, there will be individuals who will endeavour to shut down these conversations and make comments such as “don’t bring the me too hashtag into it”. This type of reaction along with motivations to suppress such discussions, is a telling sign how unwell the industry is.

Working in isolating industries that are not well regulated can bring a host of issues for its employees ranging from mental health issues to being targets of sexual harassment/assault and bullying. The corruption and fear around exposing these sorts of behaviour is what’s contributing to the perpetual cycle of abuse

There appears to be a lot of confusion around the definition of sexual assault and harassment, especially when there are cultures on board that tolerate such behaviours to the point that the behaviour becomes normalised.

Previously having worked on board yachts, I witnessed the impact of bullying first hand. Seeing the distress and toll that poor behaviour can have on the victim as well as the team, I was too at a loss on to whom and how I could report it. Recently, Burgess approached us to run a seminar for their conference in Monaco on bullying and mental health. It is great to see that some of the Yacht Management Companies are recognising the impact of burn out and mental health issues on crew.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment is a term that is used interchangeably, however I’ve attempted to clarify the two below. From my research it would largely depend on which country the act was perpetrated in for it to be deemed a criminal offence. So as you can imagine working on yachts can make it even more complicated to be able to make a report and to trust that it will be dealt with effectively by the law. It is important to note that it is common for victims not to speak up about their experiences due to feelings of shame and guilt as well as fear of putting their livelihood at risk. As a community we need to work collectively by naming or reporting behaviour that is deemed to be inappropriate. If we don’t act then we become part of the problem and nothing will change.

Sexual  assault is a term used to describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature; this can include unwanted touching, kissing or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways.

Sexual Harassment on the other hand is a broader term that can be broken down into three core areas one of which includes sexual assault. It is important to note that sexual harassment can be verbal, written or physical.

1. Sexual Coercion – this is when the perpetrator manipulates the victim either implicitly or explicitly for his/her personal sexual gain. An example of this was when a HOD attempted to manipulate a stew in obliging to his sexual requests, upon refusing she was ordered to detail the engine room until 3 am. Subsequently she was continuously in fear of her safety which led to the onset of mental health issues.

2.Unwanted sexual attention – including unwanted kissing, groping, hugging, touching, AND ongoing pressure for dates. When it becomes a criminal offence, it must be     unpleasant and unwelcome to the recipient. This is essentially sexual assault. Please note that behaviour of a sexual nature that you agree to such as flirting, is not sexual harassment.

3.Gender Harassment – This is conduct that discriminates based on gender and can include the use of crude sexual terms and images. Be mindful how you talk to each other in the crew mess etc and the content of your emails. Two examples that I can share here, is a HOD called a crew house asking if there were any green stews available who were a size 6 with a big “rack.” Then another example of a gender harassment incident, was that during an interview a stew was asked by the captain what her menstrual cycle was like and whether she got bad PMS. By no means is my intention to point fingers but rather to ignite change and ask ourselves how can we make things better. My perception is that captains and heads of departments are not getting the leadership training they need so it becomes even more difficult to know the right way of doing things when you have never been taught how. What our leaders are lacking are the emotional intelligence skills in the areas of compassion, self awareness and empathy.

According to the World Health Organisation, “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential; can cope with the normal stresses of life; can work productively and fruitfully; and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. This definition really encapsulates how difficult it is to achieve optimal mental health on a daily basis and how abhorrent acts such as bullying through to sexual assault can have a critical impact on one’s mental health.

A highly recommend you watching the following clip which succinctly summarises sexual harassment: youtube sexual harassment clip

Common mental health issues as a result of bullying and sexual assault can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • OCD
  • PTSD
  • Personality Disorder
  • Substance Abuse

We need to take care of each other and be aware of any changes in behaviour amongst our colleagues and be prepared to take the necessary cause of action.

On a side note, Alcohol and Drug abuse is not only putting the individual at risk but it is a huge safety issue for others on board. These incidences need to be handled sensitively and crew should be supported in getting the attention and care that they need for their recovery. The employer or head of department in this instance should be adhering to their duty of care.

What protective measures can we put into place and how can The Crew Coach (TCC) help?

  • We need to create a safe space where crew can feel comfortable in expressing their feelings and are able to openly share where they are at with their mental health.
  • Having a go to person to speak to – doesn’t need to be someone from HOD it needs to be a person who is approachable and that the crew member feels comfortable in talking to-  (It would be advantageous to train a nominated crew member in mental health first aid contact TCC for further details – info@thecrewcoach.com )
  • Having clear procedures around harassment and bullying displayed in the crew mess.
  • Education around how to build a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying and harassment. (TCC workshops)
  • Changes in recruitment processes – educating HODs on how to hire crew with a focus on soft skills. The Crew Coach will be opening a recruitment division soon. Karine is an accredited profile assessor in DISC Advanced which focuses on human behaviour within the workplace. In addition, she also uses her psychology background to screen candidates in order to find the right blend of soft skills to be a competent crew member.
  • Investing in professional development training for crew in interpersonal skills. ( The Crew Coach, N2 People Skills , Crew Glue)
  • Doing performance appraisals and exit strategies correctly we offer a people and culture service supporting captains and yacht management companies. (The Crew Coach)
  • Counselling services – The Crew Coach provides an in house counselling service for crew; Our service is unique in that it provides crew with an ongoing counselling service, you only need to tell your story once; we forge long lasting relationships with our clients so that they can re-engage with our service at any point in their career) Karine is not only a qualified counsellor but has worked on board yachts so can empathise with her clients which is a core counselling skill. If your English isn’t your first language I would suggest contacting ISWAN. ISWAN is a great resource as they have counsellors who can speak different languages. Another alternative, is contacting Medair for support; they provide crew with a certain number of free calls per year.

What can I do if I am been sexually harassed?

  • As hard as it may be tell them to stop: if it is possible, tell the offender that their behaviour is offensive and unacceptable and that you want it to stop immediately. If this isn’t possible, you should discuss it with a fellow crew member who is of higher rank.
  • Keep a written record: you should keep a written record of everything that has happened, when it happened and the names of any people who saw what happened.  You can keep notes in your phone if you want.
  • Contact DPA, PYA , Nautilus International, MLC.

You may feel scared about making a complaint, but it is important to know that it is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly or harm you because you made a complaint against them.

It is apparent that sexual harassment and discrimination along with bullying is a prevalent issue within the industry. Unfortunately poor work cultures take time to change but it isn’t impossible to change them. I think we can all say that we are aware that there is a problem, and to some extent we are part of the problem, however we can also be part of the solution.

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