How Common are Sexual Assault Crimes on Cruise Ships?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

sexual assault victimThe recent sexual attack of a passenger onboard a Holland America Line cruise ship has raised red flags for many. Not just for officials, but for cruise goers as well. While the idea of a crew member entering your cabin without your permission in the middle of the night seems shocking and unlikely, when you look at actual cruise crime statistics regarding sexual assault, harassment and rape, the numbers are a lot worse than you might imagine.

When it comes to cruise ship crimes, sexual assault is the leading crime reported to and investigated by the FBI, comprising roughly 55 percent of all crimes at sea that are reported to the agency. But while 55 percent seems extremely high, the real figure is even higher.

Cruise lines are notorious for concealing and downplaying criminal activity on their ships. Why? Well, for starters, if news of a serious crime breaks out, this could cause severe damage to the cruise line’s reputation, especially if a particular line has been involved in repeated sexual offenses. A criminal incident can also cost a cruise line a lot of money. All cruise companies are required to put the safety of their passengers above all else. Safety can mean a lot of things, including protection from accidents and injuries, but it also encompasses protection from criminal activity. Sexual assault is one of the worst and most life-changing incidents an individual can go through. Victims have a right to seek legal help with a maritime attorney and may be eligible to obtain compensation for their pain and suffering. A sexual assault or rape lawsuit can really impact a cruise line’s bank account, and it can also lead to the loss of future cruise sales.

Last year, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller introduced a legislation that requires cruise lines to increase transparency in their crime reporting. The bill follows the release of information showing a huge discrepancy between what crimes are actually reported by the industry and the number of crimes that are actually happening. When it comes to sexual crimes, cruise lines only reported 29 incidents to the FBI in 2012. However, they only reported 11 of these incidents to the public. Who knows how many more were neither reported to the FBI nor the public.

In 2013, 14 cases of rape and 11 cases of sexual assault were reported in just the first six months of the year. Sadly, many victims refrain from reporting incidents because they are threatened by their assailants or because they feel embarrassed. One of our firm’s clients, who goes by the alias “JANE DOE” due to the fact that she was sexually assaulted at a very young age, was one of those victims who was intimidated by her attacker. When JANE DOE was only 12 years old in 1999, she went on a cruise vacation with her family. At one point, she got in an elevator with a crew member, who told her he could take her somewhere to watch dolphins in the ocean. Shortly therafter, JANE DOE was raped. The assailant threatened her life, the lives of her family members and even the life of her dog.

Though JANE DOE reported the incident, crew members did not take her seriously. It wouldn’t be until several years later that her case would be taken seriously and that the crew member would be held accountable for his actions.

Although JANE DOE was able to obtain at least some semblance of justice, not all cruise rape victims can say the same.

There are times when passengers are the perpetrators in a sexual attack, but oftentimes, the assailants are the cruise line’s own crew members, as in both John Doe’s and as has been reported in the recent Holland America sexual assault.

Often times, cruise lines will protect their workers, sometimes even going as far as to place blame on the actual victim, alleging they consented to the act or even denying the crew member committed any such crime.

The worst part is that there aren’t any police officers or federal agents onboard cruise ships. Sure, cruise lines employ security guards, but they aren’t always helpful, especially when handling a sexual assault crime.

Take, for instance, the case of a female cruise passenger who alleged she was sexually assaulted by security guards onboard another popular cruise line. The victim underage (she was 17 at the time). When she reported the assault, the cruise line employees accused her of carrying contraband, forcing her to undergo a strip and cavity search without her parents present.  As if that wasn’t horrific enough, she was also kicked off the ship and placed on a Bahamian prison, where she was allegedly assaulted again.

What did the cruise line do? Stand by its crew members’ actions.

When a sexual crime occurs onboard a ship, FBI officials must be notified immediately and the alleged assailant should be detained until federal officials board the vessel.

It has been reported that this is the second sexual assault crime to occur onboard a Holland America ship in less than two month.  One of our firm’s maritime lawyers is currently representing an 18-year-old passenger who was reportedly assaulted by one of the vessel’s crew members onboard a Holland America ship. In both instances, it appears that the sexual crimes occurred on the same ship, the MS Amsterdam.

There are a number of ways cruise lines can diminish the risk of a sexual assault on the high seas. But while these terrible crimes are common, it shouldn’t deter cruise goers from enjoying their vacations. Traveling in large groups, staying away from isolated spaces and limiting interaction with strangers to common areas are some of the many ways passengers can protect themselves from harm. It is also important for passengers to know they always have a right to contact a maritime attorney in the event they suffer any kind of crime or accident. Cruise passengers have rights, and maritime lawyers are committed to protecting them.