*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
I’m a seafarer.
I am an ordinary human being.
The reason I say this, is that sometimes in telling and reading stories of sexual assault, we lose sight of the person behind the story. On top of that, there seems to be this idea that seafarers need to be a certain way. In particular, female seafarers coming into a male environment are required to fit in with that environment. We do not like to make a fuss in case we are told that we should not be there at all. We put up with gloves that are so big we can’t use our hands. We bring a 6 month supply of sanitary products with us. We work as hard as we can whilst being told this probably isn’t the job for us. When we do badly at a task or fail completely, we start to wonder if people are right when they say women should not be at sea.
I thought I wasn’t fit to represent women at sea, because I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t strong. I drank too much, I had relationships with other people on board. I thought I should keep my head down, so that no one would point out what a hypocrite I was.
I thought I encouraged the Chief Mate who kept hugging me on the bridge in the dark, because I froze and didn’t tell him to stop. I was tired and seasick and I was a first trip cadet, he was in his 40s or 50s. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t think it was a big deal, I didn’t tell anyone else. I kept his secret and blamed myself for letting it happen.
I thought it was my fault when I woke up to find the Bosun had pushed my top and bra up over my chest and was groping me. We had all been drinking in a bar ashore, he had followed me back to my cabin, he said I kissed him. I fell asleep with him still in the room, maybe even on the bed. When I woke up and asked him what he was doing, he laughed.
I didn’t believe I was raped, because I chose to go to the cabin of the AB I was attracted to when I was drunk and upset. What was I expecting would happen?
I thought rape was screaming, crying, shouting ‘no’. Now I know it’s not always that. It’s trying to keep your clothes on while someone much stronger takes them off. It’s resignation and knowing you’ve lost the game. It’s confusion about what you wanted and what you didn’t. It’s waking up to find someone already having sex with you without your consent.
I didn’t think I could speak out about these things because I wasn’t the perfect victim, I wasn’t the perfect example of a female seafarer. I struggled with depression even before I came to sea, I would get sad and need human company. I wasn’t tough enough. I would get these feelings that the world wasn’t real, that I was unreal. It terrified me and I would drink to make those feelings go away. And every time I would drink there was someone ready to take advantage.
Today, I know that I’m a good person. I love my friends and family. I have been responsible for cadets and crew and my instinct is to protect them, not take advantage of their naivety and lack of experience. I would never abuse another person in the way that I was abused.
I am doing well at work because I try hard and I am good at my job, as I always was. My crew encourage and support me, and I do the same for them.
Now I can show kindness and compassion for my colleagues without being afraid of the consequences, because I know I am safe. I can be myself and have realised that my personality was never the problem in the first place. I can never explain to anyone how grateful I am for that, and how much it means.
It scares me to tell this story, but I have written it because I want you to know, whoever you are, that you don’t deserve to be hurt or abused. You deserve to be respected and supported, not because of your rank, your reputation or any other factor, but because you are a human being.