Steward: “Chief Officer, have a minute?”
Chief Officer: “Sure, Steward. What’s up?”
Steward: “I’ve been sexually assaulted and need your help.”
What are the next steps the Chief Officer should take? How would you respond?
Episode 47 of the Women Offshore Podcast continues the conversation around sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) by highlighting medical resources available to seafarers while offshore, at sea, and in remote areas. Dr. Ann Jarris, an emergency medical physician and Co-founder/CEO of Discovery Health MD, joins Fionna Boyle to discuss trauma informed care at sea, such as coordination of resources, sexual assault first response, victim safety, stabilization and follow-up care.
Discovery Health MD was established SeaDoc® in 2016 as a medical advisory service (MAS) for the maritime industry. SeaDoc® is a 24/7 hotline for seafarers to have immediate access to a maritime-specialized medical provider and a team of emergency physicians who understand working in remote environments. The emergency care team works together with the medical person-in-charge (PIC) who is assigned as the vessel first responder, the captain for replenishment of medical chest supplies, and the shipping company for overall coordination of care. Additionally, the emergency care team coordinates with the US Coast Guard/host nation for logistics of possible medical evacuation, ship diversion, and emergency port entry.
In episode 47, Fionna and Dr. Jarris discuss the need for proactive SASH awareness and prevention preparation by researching a company’s SASH policies, reducing the bystander effect by speaking up, and taking part in personal and social responsibility to promote interpersonal and workplace safety. Stopping or reducing SASH and the spectrum of harm onboard, can mean hosting tough conversations that positively impact shipboard culture. The Best Practices Guide on Prevention of SASH in the US Merchant Marine published by the Ship Operations Cooperative Program is recommended for reference.
This episode also showcases the importance of preparation and planning for a sexual assault emergency onboard is just as important as the drills and training that are already embedded in a seafarer’s schedule. An emergency is not the first time a checklist should be referenced, but when it comes to sexual assault, a checklist probably doesn’t exist onboard your vessel.
Fionna and Dr. Jarris also talk about the differences between ship and shore forensic exam capabilities, importance of preservation of evidence, documentation, and communication off the ship with the MAS and officials, and understand that ongoing risk assessments need to include ongoing conversations for SASH prevention and response at sea.
If SASH is reported to you, are you ready to respond?
Seafarer: Report in a confidential and sensitive manner and get appropriate support onboard.
Medical PIC: Inform the Captain and company POC (such as DPA/HR Personnel), coordinate with MAS to stabilize life threatening injuries and provide individual response.
As a Crew: Become trauma informed specific to trauma impact on the brain and the flight-fight-freeze response, understand ongoing mental and physical effects from chronic stress like memory, cognition, attention, and recall impairments, and remain aware/open that SASH impacts the entire vessel, and spread the word that all have a responsibility to look out for each other’s safety.
If you or someone you know experienced a sexual assault or sexual harassment, you are not alone.
We encourage you to report such matters to your employer, academy, school, or union as per their guidelines. For example, this may be your HR partner, captain, or designated person ashore. It can be hard to speak up, but it is a necessary step in seeking help and breaking the cycle of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The following is a list of resources to also utilize.
- RAINN-Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: https://www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault , 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/
- Victim Connect: Confidential Referrals for Crime Victims: https://victimconnect.org/learn/types-of-crime/sexual-assault/, 1-855-484-2846
- SeafarerHelp: https://www.seafarerhelp.org dial +44 20 7323 2737; email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Safer Waves: https://saferwaves.org/
- SeaCode: https://www.seacode.org/resources
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The Women Offshore Foundation is an online organization and resource center for a diverse workforce on the water. Its mission is to propel women into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources, while raising awareness amongst industry leaders and decision makers about issues affecting women on the water. Contact Women Offshore today: email@example.com.