Could a Sexual Predator Be On Board Your Next Cruise?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

HandcuffsIn the U.S., sex offenders are required to register with the FBI in order to let government agencies know where they will live. In all U.S. states, neighbors and citizens are warned through websites or other publications when a registered sex offender moves nearby. Megan’s Law requires that the U.S. government provide citizens with notification and information about sex offenders, including personal information about where the sex offender resides. Registered sex offenders are prohibited from being in the presence of minors or coming within a certain distance of a school or day care center.

Yet, when individuals go on a cruise vacation, it is impossible to know whether the person in the cabin next door or the fellow sitting by the pool is a registered sex offender. Cruise lines don’t have the same informational and governmental structure available to them to warn vacationers when a sex offender may be traveling on board. The results of this information gap can sometimes be tragic.

The unfortunate reality is that cruise lines do not perform background checks on passengers and guests and they are not required to warn other passengers when a sex offender is traveling onboard a cruise.

In the U.S., child sex offenders or registered sex offenders are not allowed to work with children on in areas where they may pose a hazard to the general public. Yet, cruise lines, who often hire foreign nationals, have limited means to perform the necessary background checks on individuals who may end up in close proximity with children and other vulnerable members of the population. Many Caribbean nations and foreign countries do not have the online databases or registries of sex offenders available in the U.S.. This means that cruise lines may be hiring dangerous individuals without knowing it. Worse, cruise lines travel into international waters where they have limited access to police services, the F.B.I., and other law enforcement agencies. Should something go wrong at sea, cruise lines have limited recourse.

Several years ago, a six-year-old boy was molested by a sexual predator on a Royal Caribbean cruise. The incident highlighted the fact that the cruise lines do not restrict passengers from traveling who have criminal backgrounds or who have a history of sexual predation.

Furthermore, the drinking culture on many cruise ships creates an environment where an attacker or rapist can more easily assault potential victims. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which means that it is much more likely for guests to engage in activities they would normally avoid, such as entering a stranger’s cabin, and can also reduce cognitive abilities, which would otherwise allow a guest to better assess a potentially dangerous situation, such as leaving drinks unattended and exposed to predators, who might slip a date rape drug inside.

For registered sexual offenders, a cruise ship can create a perfect storm of alcohol, lack of law enforcement, security, and a supply of potential victims. Though cruise lines claim to take measures to protect travelers from potential dangers, the reality is that travelers need to be aware of the very real risk that sexual predators or sex offenders may be traveling as well.

Given these sober facts, what can travelers do to keep themselves safe?

For one, attending and watching children at all time is essential. Additionally, when parents choose to use daycares on board the ship, they should ask about the backgrounds of the people who will be caring for their children. Are the individuals caring for the children subjected to strict background checks? Are the individuals from countries where a strict background check is feasible?

Finally, passengers should never go to another person’s cabin alone or without telling someone else where they are going. Traveling in groups, establishing buddy systems, and taking precautions while drinking are all essential to preventing sexual assault while on board a cruise.

Unfortunately, even when taking the highest of precautions, sexual attacks can still occur on a ship. If you’ve been sexually assaulted or if a loved one has become the victim of a sexual crime on a ship, it is important to report the crime immediately and to contact a cruise ship rape lawyer who can help you obtain justice.