*Names are changed in our stories to protect our contributors.
Trigger Warning – This story contains descriptions of sexual assault which some readers may find distressing.
Over the years I have grown used to comments such as “Shouldn’t you be at home cooking?” or “Wouldn’t you be better off working in an office?”. People are always surprised to see a woman working on a cargo ship and that’s fine, I accept that some people will struggle with the idea.
As a cadet though it was very demoralising to constantly be told that I was in the wrong job. Most officers and crew would generally want to teach me as I was keen to learn but others would do anything to keep me with them, even if it meant I was missing out on more appropriate work elsewhere.
I had a Captain who would always keep me in to do his admin while the male deck cadet was out on deck with the crew. We got a new wire brush and I was told I wasn’t allowed to use it because women shouldn’t be using power tools. When the male cadet used it, he smashed the lantern he was attempting to clean, wrapped the power cord around the brush, and blacked out the starboard side of the ship, and I remember thinking “I don’t think I could have done as badly as that”.
This Captain criticised nearly everything I did, I felt so humiliated at meal times when he would pick on me in front of everyone, asking me why I didn’t dress nicer for dinner so that everyone else would be happy. He told me the shampoo I used smelt disgusting, he hung all my underwear out across the laundry piece by piece, he ordered me to his cabin at 10am to try to get me to drink with him, he stroked my neck while I was on the bridge.
When I contacted our company’s ‘female liaison officer’ for advice she asked me if I could “stay away from him?”. I didn’t bother explaining that on a 100m bulk carrier this could be a little difficult.
On another ship at another time, there was a knock on my cabin door, and as soon as I opened it a drunk 2nd Officer grabbed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth.
When I was a first trip cadet, within a few days of being on board, one of the crew had shown me a video on his phone of him having sex and on another occasion grabbed my hand and forced it to his crotch.
These are just some of the incidents I could share.
Talking to other seafarers and realising that I’m not alone has been really helpful for me. When I finally found the words to tell some of my male peers what I had been putting up with for so many years, they were horrified, and offered me whatever support they could. As much as I’m pleased with how my career has progressed despite all this, it made me wonder if my life would have been different if I could have found help a little sooner.