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The latest episodes of Bravo's Below Deck Down Under are sparking serious conversations, along with praise for the network, on the topic of sexual assault after two crew members were removed from the boat following misconduct.
Audiences were informed that something serious was occurring when the show's production team was seen stepping in front of the camera during an episode that aired on Monday. Voices from the background were looking to grab the attention of a naked and drunk Luke Jones — the leader of the ship's deck crew this charter season — as he made his way into the room where junior stewardess Margot Sisson was asleep. After an exchange of profanities and door slamming between producers and Jones, the camera captured Jones as he climbed into Sisson's bunk bed, where she lay unconscious.
The incident — which was intervened by producers who ejected an aggravated Jones from Sisson's room — happened on one of the staff's nights off when they go out to restaurants and bars in the city in which the ship is docked. While crew members tend to get sloppy, Sisson shared that she was "really drunk" at dinner and took tequila shots with the group. Chief stewardess Aesha Scott said she would "chaperone" Sisson to make sure she got to sleep safely.
"I don’t want any drunkenness to be taken advantage of. So I’d just like to see you get into bed safely," Scott said. "I just saw the way that Luke was looking at you, and I’m feeling very protective."
"I am glad that you’re here," Sisson responded. "I want to go to bed. All I want is water and bed, no Luke."
An indecent Jones appeared when Scott left to deal with a power shortage.
Defining the incident as sexual assault
"I would certainly term it a sexual assault," Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) tells Yahoo Life. "It clearly was an attempt to do something that was illegal, and so should be held accountable for that. And let's just be thankful that it was caught before he could do even more damage."
Although producers were the ones to get involved as Jones was in Sisson's bed, it was Scott who brought initial awareness to the situation. "You don’t have the right to put someone unconscious into that position," she later said to camera in an interview. "I have had a drunken sexual-assault experience before, and I never wanted that to happen to anyone else."
It's an admittance that Scott made when she first appeared on the Bravo franchise in season four of Below Deck Mediterranean. Berkowitz says "it's not surprising" that she would be "particularly attuned to the risk and danger" of another person in a similar situation. The fact that Scott's awareness led to the situation's eventual halt, however, is noteworthy.
"We talk a lot about the importance of bystanders being willing to intervene and the power that people have to reduce the number of sexual assaults by paying close attention to what's happening around you and making the effort to help before a situation turns really dangerous," Berkowitz says. "So the fact that someone made the effort to sexually assault a woman who was incapacitated is very common. The fact that somebody was there to put an end to it is what makes this different and special."
Why it was important to air
While the content has been described as "triggering" and "upsetting" by some viewers, Berkowitz maintains that the episodes are equally as important.
"I think giving people a really clear-eyed view of how sexual assaults come about is really valuable," he says. "You can talk about the theory, you can talk about this in an abstract way for a long time. But actually seeing it occur is going to resonate and stay with people in a way that an abstract discussion can't."
The action taken by crew members — notably Scott and Captain Jason Chambers — and the conversations had among them also serve as good models of how to handle such a situation.
"One of the biggest barriers to more survivors coming forward is a belief that they're going to be blamed or that their friends and family or colleagues won't stand by them. They often also cite the fact that they don't think anything will be done if they do come forward," Berkowitz says.
When stewardess Laura Bileskalne shared her disappointment over Jones's termination, further action was taken, doubling down on the positive example — and portraying a perspective that's rarely seen.
"I just don't think it's fair," Bileskalne said to Sisson. "I’m sorry for you, I just think it should be a warning. I’m just sad. I think he just meant it as a joke. He’s a funny guy, I don’t think he meant anything bad. He wouldn’t rape you or anything." Bileskalne's own behavior — unwanted sexual advances towards a member of the deck crew, Adam Kodra — was also confronted. "Adam feels uncomfortable with some moments out, and he’s tried to say no, and you have not listened to him and his boundaries to be set," Chambers told Bileskalne. "I’m trying to move forward as a team ... so in that I’m going to terminate your employment today."
According to Berkowitz, "Showing that the boss was behind [Sisson and Kodra], that most of the colleagues were behind them, being able to see that quick action was taken and that they did believe those who came forward and reported that bad behavior, I think is modeling really good behavior. And hopefully would help to encourage others to come forward."
What can people learn in the aftermath?
Many of the crew members and the captain have taken to social media to share their thoughts on the episode and how they've moved forward in the time since it occurred.
Most notably, Sisson posted a series of messages of appreciation to her fellow cast members who helped her out of the scary situation.
"This happened over a year ago and again I’ll stress, the people involved are all hopefully on a better journey to better themselves," Chambers said in a video shared Wednesday.
"Certainly for the victim, healing and recovery is a journey. It's something that often takes a long time and evolves over years," Berkowitz says. "Ultimately, friends and family are going to play a very big role in a victim's healing. And the more supportive they are and the more understanding they are, the better the victim is going to come out."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available. RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is here for survivors 24/7 with free, anonymous help. 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.