Consistent with a disturbing trend of cruise ship rape and sexual assault, a woman has now formally alleged she was a victim of such a crime while on board a New Year’s cruise. It allegedly happened on the Royal Caribbean ship Allure of the Seas, which set sail from Fort Lauderdale. The woman’s identity has not been disclosed due to the nature of the crime. She is identified in the Court record only by her initials, S.M.
According to the allegations contained in her lawsuit, she asked an employee for help with getting toiletries, but was then lured into an employee only area, forced into a bathroom and sexually assaulted. She briefly escaped the bathroom, but was hauled back in by her attacker, who continued the sexual assault. Worse still, the alleged attacker was an employee of Royal Caribbean.
There are conflicting accounts of what the cruise ship company did in the wake of the accident. Royal Caribbean, through their spokesperson, has said that the alleged incident was immediately reported to the FBI and local law enforcement in St. Kitts. The company also says they preserved all evidence, including surveillance footage. But the lawsuit alleges that the cruise line simply allowed the accused off at the next port, making it difficult for the proper authorities to fully investigate the alleged crime. The lawsuit has described Royal Caribbean’s conduct as “wanton, willful, and outrageous.”
Having litigated so many cruise rape and cruise ship sexual assault cases at our firm, there is a disturbing trend in such crimes. The cruise lines have typically acted in their own best interests, in order to minimize their own exposure to bad press or liability after a crime. This is true not only in cruise ship sexual assault cases, but also in other, less prevalent crimes, and accidents that cause injury to passengers or the crew. The problem with this approach is that it is very much against the victim’s wellbeing to impede or delay the justice that the victim is due. We have seen cases where the allegation was that the evidence was either changed or removed, where victims have been discouraged from speaking with the FBI immediately, and where documents relating to an incident are inconsistent with each other. There is no way to know, for the moment, exactly what happened in this case, but the larger issue is: What can cruise lines do to enhance safety on their ships?
Activists, legislators, and even maritime lawyers have long argued for a change in the law that will enhance security and rights for victims. Maritime law is one of those areas of the law where there are a great many variables that can affect the outcome of the case. Questions regarding jurisdiction (often American courts have jurisdiction in an incident involving an American passenger, even if the ship flies a foreign flag), enforcement of the ticket contract, and the extent to which cruise lines are liable for events arising out of their own negligence in international waters. Additional issues that we commonly, and successfully, deal with are choice of forum and cruise industry attempts to lessen the statute of limitations. The legal trend has been to hold shipping companies strictly liable for sexual assaults committed by a crewmember. On the other hand sexual assaults committed by passengers requires a showing of negligence by the cruise lines. In these types of cases, that can be hard to prove but we have been able to successfully resolve these cases against the cruise lines in almost every instance.
Cruise ship sexual assault is much more common than land based sexual assault according to an analysis done by a Canadian professor of sociology, and it demands a full investigation by the FBI and preservation of evidence. It also demands that the victim retain counsel well versed in the particulars of not only personal injury liability, but also maritime law. You do have rights! If you or someone you know has been the victim of a cruise ship sexual assault, call me or one of the other cruise ship sexual assault lawyers at our firm to discuss your rights and pursuit of justice.