Sexual harassment and sexual violence is never ok. This includes within the superyacht community. 

Viewers of the reality TV series ‘Below Deck’ will be familiar with the antics of the crews and guests onboard the various super-yachts used in the programme.  

Matters took a sinister turn recently though in the Australian version of the franchise, ‘Below Deck Down Under‘ where two crew members were dismissed for sexual misconduct in two separate incidents. This has made headlines in the international media, but for people familiar with life onboard super-yachts, this is not in any way surprising.   

Sexual harassment and violence at sea is arguably a silent but endemic issue that remains incredibly hard to address. In addition to so called crew on crew incidents, guests and passengers are all too frequently both perpetrators and victims of sexual violence.   

Human Rights at Sea, NGOs such as Safer Waves, individual survivors, welfare organisations and unions all too often hear of these incidents. Yet, because of the context of life onboard a vessel and the complexities of legal jurisdiction at sea, justice is all too often impossible to secure for victims.   

One needs only to look at the recent US-flagged vessel rape case of former Midshipman Hope Hicks and the pathway to which the abuses of her and other cadets came to light first through public disclosure from a civil society NGO. The struggle for justice that she has faced is all too common.  

In the current Below Deck Down Under incidents, the production crew intervened and the Captain acted decisively, but there are not always such interventive actions on every super-yacht. And detection alone is not enough, prevention must be part of the solution so that people no longer find themselves in harm's way whilst simply doing their job.  

Silent Suffering 

The incidents in Below Deck Down Under were caught on camera for the world to see. However, most incidents never see the light of day. Instead, they are discussed privately behind closed doors by crew, on closed social media groups, or simply never discussed at all as victims quietly suffer in silence.  

Fear of poor management response, being labelled a troublemaker, and of losing one’s job are all factors in the assessed significant public underreporting of sexual harassment and violence at sea.   

While silence prevails, there is little, if any, deterrent effect and abusers will be able to carry on acting with impunity. 

Management stakeholders must do more to encourage victims to speak out, to support and protect victims and to challenge sexual violence.  

Instead of implementing the correct response, which would be the immediate involvement of the Designated Person Ashore (DPA), third-party safeguarding, local constabulary reporting, and Flag State involvement; what all too often happens is the perpetrators is quietly let go, free to commit further offences elsewhere, or even worse, the victim is let go often with a payoff for which is subject to non-disclosure agreement, meaning they cannot talk about the incident.  

The Public and Social Factor 

The producers of Below Deck have shone a light on the issue of sexual violence at sea. The public have now seen first-hand how such incidents can occur, and viewers are themselves deciding such behaviour is unacceptable. The outrage expressed on social media is testament to this. 

Just as other industries and sectors have had to tackle their sexual violence issues, the time has now surely come for the yachting world to do the same.  

At the time of writing, there is a real sense throughout the industry that the ‘Superyacht Me Too’ moment is about to break, hoisting reputations on the yardarm and throwing into the furnace all too often used non-disclosure agreements designed to gag victims. Human Rights at Sea stands with and supports victims of sexual violence at sea, and will continue to find ways to secure justice.  

CEO, Safer Waves, Becky Newdick comments: "The footage from Below Deck Down Under makes for harrowing viewing, especially for survivors of sexual violence. 

We would like to thank those that bravely decided to leave this footage in the episode, as it highlights an issue that has been talked about but is rarely seen. 

The benefit of seeing this footage in black and white on our screens, is that it becomes so obvious that it is always the perpetrator of sexual harassment who is at fault. A victim cannot be "asking for it" by simply trying to sleep in their cabin. 

In this case, the production crew intervened.   

To all those survivors who didn't have anyone to intervene on their behalf, I'm sorry that no one was there. You didn't deserve to be harassed or abused, and support is available if you would like to talk about what happened." 


Contact: If you have been affected by this HRAS Opinion piece, please contact Safer Waves: https://saferwaves.org/ by emailing support@saferwaves.org.

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