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Sexual Harassment


With Hollywood spectacularly imploding at the moment due to sexual harassment claims, and the terrifying abundance of the trending hashtag #metoo where women and men have come forward to share the fact that they too have been harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives, this issue is not going away. If anything, it’s gaining momentum as more and more people are feeling able to speak up about the abuse they have suffered, often at the hands of someone they knew.

Yachting is an “old boy’s club” in many respects. Nobody can argue the fact that gender stereotyping is rife in this industry, nor can they argue that it is not a male dominated industry either.  Most jobs are for male candidates and although there are women in traditionally male roles (e.g. on deck or in the engine room) they are still in such a minority that it’s a rarity rather than common place.  As such, the girls tend to all be on the interior doing “women’s work”, i.e. cleaning, serving and looking after the guests (and sometimes the crew). As such, does this old school stereotyping of roles breed sexual harassment? And how do people deal with it? How should they deal with it?

Sometimes the senior crew treat the females in such a way that juniors are encouraged to be chauvinistic and treat women on board as second class citizens.  A first officer recently left what he thought was his perfect job when he discovered how poorly the female crew were treated on board.  “They were expected to wait on, serve, and clear up after the male crew.  They spoke to them like they were their personal slaves.” The point is, why should women on board be treated so diabolically?  Would these men expect their wife, sister, or mum to wipe their backside? Sadly the answer is probably yes…. And this first officer was berated and called names for standing up for the women. Yes, in 2017. Disappointing isn’t it?

A stewardess was up a ladder reaching up to clean light fittings when a senior crew member thought it was acceptable to slide his hand up her top, feel her stomach and comment how flat it was.  On what planet is that ok? And who do you turn to when that’s your head of department? She said “I froze. I didn’t know what to do or say. I always thought if someone touched me inappropriately I’d slap them but when it actually happened I was so shocked I just couldn’t move.”

It’s amazing how some of these individuals get through life, let alone build a career, when they’re behaving in such an unacceptable way.  Surprising still that no boyfriends, fathers or brothers have arrived to the yacht to give them a smack around the chops.  Probably because most cases of sexual harassment are never reported. Instead the girls leave, be it straight away (better) or at the end of the season with a massive dip in self esteem having tolerated this belittling and objectifying treatment for so long. And in some cases, being told it was their fault and they led the person on.

As victims know, often it’s the mental and emotional scarring that’s hardest to deal with. Being convinced that you were asking for it or deserved it.  Especially when as often happens, the person you turn to tells you it’s your problem and you’re encouraging it rather than listening, helping and overcoming this problem together.

If you’re sexually harassed on board, be it verbally or physically you should be able to talk to someone in a senior position about it.  Ideally you go to your head of department.  Failing that, you talk to management.  Failing that, you could try the owner.  Most victims seem to feel that if they tell someone they’ll get the blame as the senior crew member is protected and they will be finishing their career in yachting. Sadly that often seems to happen. But then it’s on their conscience that they did not address the matter and it could and probably will, happen to someone else after they leave. And if it’s not addressed, then how will it ever be stopped? And let’s face it – if this is your experience of this luxury industry would you want to stay on?  Look at Hollywood, how many women have been allegedly abused at the hands of Harvey Weinstein? And so many of us are asking “but why didn’t you tell anyone?!”. Because, simply, they felt they would not be believed. How sad is that? That because a woman trusted a man in a senior position, she must be at fault? Because she was wearing a short dress? Who cares what she was wearing? How is that even relevant? Victim shaming is rife, and with the keyboard cowboys on social media sights flexing their fingers it must be incredibly hard for any victims to prepare themselves mentally for the onslaught of blame and shame that will inevitably come.

There is a line between banter and sexual harassment which must be clear – it’s a very fuzzy division at best so sometimes it’s best not to even go there. Some people can take a bit of banter but many people can’t and they’re simply not used to it.  Banter becomes bullying and could be construed as sexual harassment depending on what the subject is.  Be professional, you are at work after all so why bring anything sexual into it? Would you in any other industry? Would you talk to your mum like that? If the answer is no – then keep your mouth shut.  The people who are most successful in yachting keep their personal life and professional life separate and behave in a respectable and professional manner at all times.  Ok, so let your hair down on a night off but when you’re at work you do what you’re paid to do.

Often there are cultural differences to overcome within a multi national crew, in this case it’s even more important that the captain or management makes it very clear how crew interaction will work, what behaviours will and will not be tolerated.  Using the excuse “that’s what women do where I’m from” is not good enough. If you want to work on an international yacht then you must adapt to this way of working or go home.

Perhaps it’s time the HELM (Human Element Leadership & Management) courses and even STCW PSSR (Personal Safety and Social Responsibility) courses start addressing the fact that everyone should be treated with respect.  If they’re not, they should be subject to disciplinary action. And anyone found guilty of sexual harassment should be fired. If this subject is addressed on day one – at the very start of everyone’s yachting career maybe it could make a difference and bring some of these people into the 21st century. Zero tolerance and that, is all.

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