WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate, as part of the conference report for S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, today approved reforms adopted by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to protect midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees and contractors from sexual assault. Beyond unacceptable past management failures, preventing sexual assault and providing timely help to victims can be especially challenging for NOAA and the Department of Transportation’s U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), which oversees the USMMA, due to the relative isolation of ships at sea.
“Enacting these reforms will be a step toward a needed culture change at agencies where women and men often work together in close quarters for long periods at sea,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the full committee. “I congratulate Sens. Deb Fischer, Cory Booker, Dan Sullivan, and Brian Schatz for their leadership in the Commerce Committee’s bipartisan efforts to fight sexual assault and help those in maritime agencies. Accounts from women who experienced sexual assault and felt they had to choose between a career they loved and their personal well-being are heartbreaking and unacceptable.”
Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) led legislation championing provisions for the USMAA as part of a reauthorization while Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) led a parallel effort for NOAA.
Click here for a copy of the NDAA. Sexual assault prevention provisions are located in title XXXV, “Maritime Matters.”
Summary of provisions included in the NDAA:
Strengthening Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
- Strengthens Midshipmen Sexual Assault Prevention Training: Ensures incoming midshipmen receive training on sexual assault prevention and response as part of their orientation program, and refresher training annually thereafter.
- Expands Access to Victim Advocates: Requires the USMMA to designate and train volunteer sexual assault victim advocates to help victims identify resources, understand their rights, and have access to assistance in navigating investigative, health, and recovery processes.
- Requires a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator: Ensures the USMMA employs a full-time sexual assault response coordinator at or near campus, ensuring a strong management structure for training and support activities.
- Ensures 24-7 Victim Hotline Access: Guarantees access to a 24-hour hotline through which a sexual assault victim at the USMMA can receive support services.
- Enhanced Congressional Oversight: Strengthens oversight and reporting for the sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and response program at the USMMA.
Establishes a Policy to Address Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault within NOAA
- Requires NOAA to Establish a Policy to Address Sexual Assault: Directs the agency to create and implement a policy that outlines: clear procedures to follow in the case of an occurrence; clear rights of the victim to be protected from the accused; prohibition and consequences for retaliatory actions against someone who reports a sexual assault; and a process to request a unit transfer for a victim of sexual assault.
- Improves Resources Available to Sexual Assault Victims: Requires NOAA to develop and train volunteer sexual assault victim advocates and guarantees access to a 24-hour hotline through which a sexual assault victim at NOAA can receive support services.
- Enhanced Oversight and Reporting: Strengthens oversight and reporting for the sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and response program at NOAA, including a requirement for quarterly reports that describe the number of harassment cases and any trends or region specific issues.