– What can seafarers expect when they reach out for help following sexual assault or harassment on board?

29th April 2020

It is so important to be able to talk. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, it can be a huge burden to carry around with you and can take its toll on your mental health. However, talking to someone who either doesn’t understand sexual assault, or doesn’t understand how life at sea works, can be extremely frustrating and feel like a waste of time.  It is crucial then, to find the right support.

We talked to ISWAN (The International Seafarer’s Welfare and Assistance Network) about how their helpline, SeafarerHelp, is run.

SeafarerHelp is a multi-lingual, 24 hour helpline for seafarers and their families. It is manned by paid staff who have been trained in counselling skills and suicide risk assessment, and have a thorough understanding of the maritime world. The topics of sexual harassment and assault are included in their training modules, and while they are not yet specifically trained in this area, they do have experience in answering these types of call.

When a seafarer contacts SeafarerHelp they can expect free, confidential and non-judgemental support. The team works with a number of psychologists and counsellors around the world, and if it is deemed appropriate, a consultation can be arranged.

When it comes to practical help, SeafarerHelp acknowledge that their options are limited, and they do not offer legal advice. However, on a case-by-case basis they may be able to link seafarers up with local services. ISWAN has built up a network of support around the world, working with organisations such as Stella Maris, Sailors’ Society and the Mission to Seafarers. They may also be able to refer a case to the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation).

Any referral and passing of details to local services will be at the request of the seafarer only.

If you are looking for emotional and practical support following a sexual assault, or ongoing sexual harassment or abuse at sea, we would suggest that SeafarerHelp is the place to start. Importantly, they will believe you, they will not judge the situation, they know how to speak to vulnerable people and they will try to support you as best they can. 

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