Senate Committee Hearing Reveals Continued Prevalence of Sexual Assault Crimes on Cruise Ships (Part 2)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Laurie Dishman Cruise Ship Safety Senate HearingIn Part 1 of our blog, we discussed how sexual assaults are an ongoing problem within the cruise industry and how cruise lines have continuously failed to provide accurate reporting of the numbers and the facts surrounding these crime and have also failed to improve ship board safety aimed at addressing it, despite the fact that they have a responsibility under maritime law to the health and welfare of their passengers and crew. As a result, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller recently held his second hearing to discuss the lack of passenger safety.

Sen. Rockefeller has continuously tried to improve the safety of passengers on cruise ships yet, cruise lines have been very slow to respond to his concerns. Last year, he introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act and held a Senate Committee hearing to discuss the lack of safety within the industry. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly on the senate website and showed just how large of a discrepancy there was between the crimes cruise lines report and the actual number of incidents that take place.

Shortly after the hearing, four of the world’s major cruise lines, “Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corporation, Disney Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines, “voluntarily” published crime reports, which included statistics on the number of passengers who reported sexual crimes dating back to 2010. We say “voluntarily” in quotation marks because the disclosure was mostly a response to the Senator’s bill, which mandates reporting compliance and also standardizes the way reports are revealed to the public.

While Sen. Rockefeller’s efforts were valiant, one year later, we still haven’t seen much of a change in the industry. Just this past February, a female cruise passenger aboard a Holland America ship was physically and sexually assaulted by a crew member, who nearly killed her after attempting to through her overboard. This horrific incident, coupled with years of cruise ship crimes and accidents and the fact that cruise lines have failed to provide tangible evidence that they’ve improved safety on ships, led Sen. Rockefeller to hold the new hearing on the matter on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

The hearing, titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers,” discussed the continued escalation of crimes, including sexual crimes, on cruise ships. It also touched upon the idea that further legislation should be introduced to reinforce passenger rights, seeing as how last year’s legislation has been all but ignored by the cruise industry.

Sen. Rockefeller introduced four witnesses during the hearing, one of whom was a cruise ship rape victim. In a moving testimony of her experience, Laurie Dishman of Sacramento, California, described how she was raped and nearly killer by a crew member in her cabin during a Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico in 2006.

After her travel companion reported the incident, the ship’s head purser and a security guard came to her cabin and asked her to write a statement and to put away all evidence in a garbage bag. She was then provided with a rape kit by the ship’s doctor. After surviving incident and the ship board indifference to her attack and unprofessional handling of the evidence needed to build a case, Ms. Dishman, who is now a member of the International Cruise Victims Association, was “extensively” interrogated by FBI agents once the vessel reach U.S. shores and ultimately they decided not to arrest the assailant.

The victim also revealed that the crew member had posed as a security guard in the ship’s dance club, when in fact he was a janitor with a record of misconduct and under the ship’s rules should not have been able to be in contact with passengers at all while not on duty in his uniform.

Meanwhile, CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, which did not testify during the hearing, continuously claims that the industry is safe and that this recent and the previous hearings have “presented a distorted picture” of the cruise industry and its safety record.

However, the statistics speak for themselves. Sexual assault is the number one crime on cruise ships and one of the crimes that is most tightly concealed. In fact, out of 42 sexual crimes reported to the FBI in 2011, only 13 crimes (31%) were reported to the public. In 2012, only 11 (38%) of the 29 sexual crimes reported to the FBI were publicized.

How many more victims have to suffer as a result of the cruise industry’s lack of adequate safety?

For Sen. Rockefeller, and each cruise ship rape lawyer at our firm, it’s high time the cruise industry turned a new leaf. Sen. Rockefeller called out the cruise industry personally and urged cruise lines “to listen carefully to the testimony” and to consider the steps they can take to better protect cruise passengers from harm.

“I believe there are steps you can take,” Sen. Rockefeller said to the cruise industry as a whole. “And I will continue pushing you to make them.”