RAINN President Scott Berkowitz Comments on Below Deck Down Under Incident
By Space Coast Daily // October 26, 2023
Fans of the Below Deck Down Under reality TV series have followed the show for its scenic vistas, amazing superyachts, and, of course, the crew member drama.
However, things took a turn for the worse during a recent episode when producers showed the more dangerous side of what can happen when coed crews cohabitate together. A proponent of fair treatment and advocacy for victims of all types of sexual abuse and violence, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) President Scott Berkowitz was quick to speak up regarding the inappropriate behavior that took place on the show and the importance of bystanders who speak up and take action when victims may not be able to advocate for themselves.
The incident occurred one night after the crew had returned from a night off. Typically, their jaunts into the port of call include dinners and drinking. However, during the evening in question, things got out of hand when deck crew lead Luke Jones arrived back to the ship inebriated and went looking for junior stewardess Margo Sisson. Sisson, however, had headed back to her bunk where she passed out. Jones then attempted to forcefully make his way into the bed of Sisson without her knowledge or consent.
Thankfully, chief stewardess Aesha Scott caught on to the tension between Jones and Sisson earlier in the evening and was alert to the potential for trouble. She remained by Sisson’s side, helping her make it safely back to her bed, but left her to address another issue on the ship. Unguarded, Sisson could have been victimized by Jones if the Bravo TV production team, which was filming the incident, had not intervened. While Jones argued with the film crew and made it to Sisson’s bed, he was stopped before he could do additional harm.
Scott Berkowitz, RAINN president and advocate, believed the actions could and should be considered a sexual assault. “It clearly was an attempt to do something that was illegal, and so he should be held accountable for that. And let’s just be thankful that it was caught before he could do even more damage.” In a later on-camera interview, Aesha Scott shared that she had previously been the victim of a drunken sexual assault and that Jones was in the wrong. She had earlier shared her experience on another iteration of the Bravo franchise and knew to be hypervigilant for her own safety — and the safety of others — whenever possible. Jones was terminated after the incident.
Scott Berkowitz: ‘The Importance of Bystanders’
The importance of bystanders in situations like Sisson’s is a clear indicator that others have the power to take action to protect and preserve the well-being of others. “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 said. “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.”
While RAINN advocates against sexual violence and crimes, providing resources and a 24/7 hotline (800-656-4673) for victims and their loved ones, the nonprofit organization supported the network’s decision to broadcast the incident. The RAINN president believes this exposure, while upsetting to some, can help bring additional awareness to similar events or crimes, helping give courage to victims to speak up about their experiences while encouraging bystanders to take action if afforded the opportunity. “I think giving people a really clear-eyed view of how sexual assaults come about is valuable,” Berkowitz said. “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.”
RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, providing help to survivors while also educating the public, striving to improve policies, and providing training on critical issues for companies and communities. Under the leadership of Scott Berkowitz, RAINN has provided support for over 4 million people since its inception in 1994. This includes the maintenance and operation of over 40 hotlines supporting private businesses as well as government programs including the Peace Corps. Many of RAINN’s programs highlight survivor stories, and RAINN also features a speaker’s bureau designed to help encourage victims to come forward to pursue assistance and justice. “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,” explained Berkowitz. “They often also cite the fact that they don’t think anything will be done if they do come forward.”
Thankfully, the incident on Below Deck Down Under concluded without more harm being done to Sisson. She’s since shared her gratitude to her peers and the film crew for their intervention at a critical time. While nearly a year has passed between filming and airing the episode, Sisson has worked to move on from the event, focusing on being thankful to the producers and Aesha Scott for their help. “Certainly for the victim, healing and recovery is a journey. It’s something that often takes a long time and evolves over years,” Berkowitz said.