After a horrific year for survivors of sexual violence at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, yet another harrowing incident has come to light in a previously unreported complaint filed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The complaint, obtained by CNN through a records request, details how the captain of a cargo ship sailing across the Atlantic, Captain John Merrone, persuaded two young U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadets to his room. After handing them each a drink, the cadets recalled feeling slightly off. Now, they say their boss had spiked their drinks with date rape drugs and, once they were unconscious, raped one cadet and “attempted to sexually assault the other.”
Filed in August, the Coast Guard’s complaint says Merrone’s behavior warrants his merchant mariner credential being revoked, in order to protect future cadets from being assaulted by their superior on the job.
The Coast Guard is typically the agency responsible for investigating reports of misconduct on ships, ranging from substance abuse to physical or sexual violence. But the records CNN obtained show that any attempts to revoke a mariner’s credentials for sexual misconduct rarely succeed and, when they do, take a painfully long time to process, which drags out an already horrific experience for survivors.
Unsurprisingly, Merrone was also accused of rape in 2011, when a woman showed up at a hospital “bruised and beaten.” According to CNN, the court records, which include testimony from the nurse who examined her, show he allegedly raped her in his apartment in the Florida Keys. Merrone was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for false imprisonment and battery, but his conviction was later overturned. The Coast Guard failed to take action against Merrone at the time because, as they told CNN, they weren’t aware of the incident until it was overturned.
Merrone has denied the allegations against him in a separate Coast Guard filing, which means that, for the time being, the captain still holds his Merchant Mariner credential and has been sailing freely since the incident was first reported.
Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is pervasive in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, as well as the larger maritime industry. Last year, a student wrote an anonymous blog post saying she was raped by her supervisor during her training program at sea and later sued the Academy for sexual misconduct. In February, Merchant Marine Academy students spoke out against the Academy, claiming the institution “silences” those who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted. And in June, yet another student came forward saying she was harassed and groped by older men on her ship and wound up sleeping in a locked bathroom with a knife in her hand for fear of being sexually assaulted. While the Academy is facing widespread scrutiny for its botched handling of sexual misconduct cases, the culture of silence continues to thrive as men in uniform continue to exploit their power over their young and often female subordinates.