Seafarers are individuals who “are employed to serve aboard any type of marine vessel.” For most people, living at sea for years would be inconceivable. The dissonance between life on the ground and life on the water may be why we don’t often hear about the issues facing seafarers. The life of a seafarer can be isolating, and communicating with those on land is difficult. Furthermore, while integral to the safety of those on board, the rank system makes it hard for junior members to challenge senior staff. These factors, alongside the fact that most seafarers are Men, make life at sea difficult for many, mainly women. For instance, a survey demonstrated that nearly 50% of female seafarers experience sexual assault on board. Where can these individuals turn for help and support? Enter Safer Waves.
Having lived at sea as part of the merchant navy for the past 15 years, Becky Newdick had first-hand experience of the challenges women face. As a result, she decided to do something about it and founded Safer Waves in 2019. Safer Waves provides a safe space for merchant seafarers who have experienced sexual assault, harassment or gender discrimination on board. Recently on the Givey Community Podcast, we had the opportunity to sit down with Becky and learn more about the cause. Listen to the conversation here:
Strong protocols and chain of command are necessary to navigate the many dangers of living at sea. This is why the rank system is in place. While the structure differs from ship to ship, the overall idea is the same. The rank system is meant to ensure smooth interactions between crew members, with clear guidelines as to who is in charge of different decisions. However, this poses some challenges for cadets and junior crew members. It’s hard for them to challenge the authority of senior crew members, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Moreover, isolation means that individuals cannot just go home when or if something happens. They often don’t have people on board they can talk to, and even phone calls are difficult to make. Couple that with the lack of female seafarers, with women making up less than 2% of all seafarers, it’s a difficult environment.
Furthermore, there are many instances of sexual harassment or discrimination reports being mismanaged or not taken seriously. Often those occupying leadership roles are not trained to handle such situations, and because of the male-dominated environment and the isolation, it’s easy to sweep them under the rug. The legislation surrounding reporting and handling these cases is also difficult because of the changing jurisdictions.
So it’s no wonder many individuals feel uncomfortable or unable to seek help.
How Safer Waves is supporting those affected:
Safer Waves is a non-profit organization that provides information alongside emotional support. Creating a network of safe spaces through connecting organizations, employers and seafarers, Safer Waves is working to give seafarers a place where they can understand the resources available and feel supported.
Safer Waves three core values:
- Compassion– “Listening to seafarers with empathy and without judgment“. Members of Safer Waves will do what they can to help individuals cope with what they have experienced.
- Equality– All those who use Safer Waves “shall be treated with the same level of care and respect, regardless of gender, nationality, religion, professional background or any other characteristic“.
- Courage– Safer Waves “will not be afraid to speak on behalf of seafarers, nor shy away from challenges or difficult conversations.“
Recently, the organization created a confidential email support service. This service allows survivors to reach out and talk about their experiences anonymously, taking into account the challenges of cell service and isolation. The organization hopes to create an online chat platform to make communication even easier. They have been working on training and clear guidelines so senior staff will know how to deal with these situations moving forward. Moreover, they have been working with lawyers to simplify seeking justice due to competing jurisdictions. Check out their website to hear stories from those who have experienced sexual assault, harassment or gender discrimination. Safer Waves gives people a platform to tell their stories safely and confidentially. Sometimes just saying it out loud relieves a lot of the weight.
How to get involved with Safer Waves:
- Donate: Safer Waves is an active charity on Givey. Givey works to represent the “forgotten 95% of small charities”. There is no fee or subscription for signing up. These funds will help cover the costs of setting up the new confidential email services. So if you have a some money you would like to give, donate.
- Fundraise: Make giving a part of your community through setting up your own fundraiser. Fundraisers can take many different shapes and forms, whether it’s an event, awareness campaign, or just a simple fundraiser page. Setting up a fundraiser for Safer Waves will help further their mission in supporting sea farers.
- Volunteer: Small and medium charities are built with volunteer support and assistance. If you live in the local Hampshire area Safer Waves is actively looking for volunteers to help operate the confidential email hotline. Even if you don’t live in the area they are always looking for knowledgeable and dedicated individuals with merchant experience. This information would be used to update the website and the tools available.
- Share: A super easy way to get involved is to spread the word! Through your favourite social media platform, or even word of mouth. Increasing awareness and exposure of the organization and its support tools will ensure that everyone who needs it will have access to the resources offered by safer waves.
Main takeaways from our conversation with Becky:
Becky explained some of the challenges she faced when starting the organization. As it did for all of us, Covid-19 added a new level of difficulty. On top of building an organization from scratch, it took more work to get things done, especially with delays for applications created by the pandemic. But, Becky was able to pick out some positive impacts that the pandemic had on the organization. Connecting with people all around the world became achievable through platforms like Zoom, and, it’s easier to access online training that wouldn’t have been accessible before.
Becky’s ability to pick out the positives and make do with changing circumstances resonated with us. She ended the interview by sharing a quote that, while she noted may be a bit cheesy, captured her thought process when she decided to create Safer Waves. She asked herself, “if not me, then who? and if not now, then when?” why shouldn’t I be the person to take this forward?”.
I hope we can all take that mindset with us; that kind of thinking is how real change gets made. So if you are unsure of what you are doing, ask yourself, if not you, then who? and if not now, when? We can all be a part of making the world a better place.
Check out some more inspiring stories from other organizations on our platform: