Statistics show that sexual assault is the most frequently occurring crime within the cruise industry. Throughout the years, hundreds of passengers ranging in age, race and ethnicity have been molested or raped onboard cruise ships across the world by fellow passengers and cruise ship crew members. Unfortunately, though these crimes are quite common, they are seldom reported by the industry to the FBI and Coast Guard, despite their severity. Cruise lines are well aware that once they report sexual crimes to these authorities, the incidents will likely go public, marring the lines’ reputations and possibly resulting in the cruise lines being held liable for negligence in maintaining safety on their vessels.
The lack of transparency in cruise crime reporting came to a head last year during a U.S. Senate Committee Hearing, where FBI data on sexual crimes was compared to cruise line data. In 2011, the FBI reported 42 cruise ship sexual assault crimes, but only 13 were reported to the public. Then, in 2012, the FBI reported 29 cruise ship sexual assault crimes, while only 11 were reported to the public.
But even in the wake of the committee hearing, sexual crimes continue to abound within the cruise industry. Demonstrating that reporting alone is not enough to solve the problem.
After a Holland America passenger was brutally beat, sexually assaulted, and nearly killed by a cruise ship crew member in February, we thought we had seen the worst of these horrible crimes, but our maritime attorneys have just learned of an equally harrowing incident that demonstrates the inadequacy of the cruise lines employee screenings and back ground checks.
A British cruise ship crew member who sexually assaulted two children in the 1980s has finally been brought to justice after one of his victims found him on Facebook. Barry Willoughby left England in the early 1990s to pursue a career in the gambling industry and began working in the cruise industry. He had been enjoying what appeared to be a quiet life, when police came to arrest him at his home in Mississippi in 2012.
Willoughby was extradited back to his home country where he stood trial for the sexual crime allegations. The victim who found him on Facebook had initially filed a report against Willoughby in 1993, but the case was never closed due to the fact that police could not locate Willoughby. But after the victim recognized him from his profile on the social media site, the case was reopened in 2010. After being extraditing back to the UK, a second woman came forward, alleging she was also abused by Willoughby.
Though Willoughby did not contest the extradition from America, he denied sexually abusing the victims. However, after hearing the victims’ testimonies in court, including how one of the women was molested when she was only nine years old by Willoughby, her then babysitter, the perpetrator’s fate was sealed.
The victim revealed how Willoughby would place a pornography magazine in front of her, flip through it until landing on a page, and force her to reenact whatever was shown on the page. She explained he then told her to keep it a secret between them, or else “bad things” would happen.
The second complainant alleged she had been sexually abused by Willoughby when she was between 11 and 15 years old. Though this victim never reported the crimes when they occurred, she drew strength from the other victim’s story and came forward to police.
Willoughby, now 46 years of age, has been found guilty on ten counts of indecent assault and three counts of indecency with a child and was sentenced to seven years in prison this week. He was also registered as a sex offender and will never be allowed to return to the United States.
Though a victory for the victims, the fact that Willoughby went so many years without being held accountable for his crimes is daunting.
Statistics, a little over 20 percent of the sexual crimes that occur onboard cruise ships are actually reported to the public. Though it can be frightening for a sexual assault victim to come forward, it’s imperative that victims understand that not doing so is worse. Anytime even the remotest of sexual incidents occurs onboard a cruise ship, victims should report the incident to the vessels security and to the FBI and there after contact a maritime attorney to discuss their rights and options with regards to pursuing legal action.