The Probability of Sexual Assault on a Cruise

On cruise ships, anyone can be sexually assaulted at any time and in any location. Many vacationers are so focused on the planned activities of the trip that they sometimes forget to remain vigilant when it comes to watching out for crime–even when they are onboard a cruise ship.

Unbeknownst to many vacationers, crime does occur on ships, and rapes and sexual assaults on cruise ships are more common than many people realize. That is why it is crucial for individuals to always be mindful of their surroundings, and if traveling with children, keep a very close eye on them as well.

Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. are maritime professionals who are prepared to help anyone who has been assaulted or raped while cruising the high seas deal with the realities of the potential legal battle that lies ahead. The firm’s cruise ship rape lawyers are well aware of the sensitive nature of such crimes, and they will handle any and all information related to the case with the utmost discretion and sensitivity. Cruises can be a fun and exciting new adventure for families and loved ones, but it is important that individuals traveling by ship know the risks involved.

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What Are Your Chances of Being Sexually Assaulted?

A number of witnesses recently appeared before a Senate transportation committee to discuss sexual assaults that take place on cruises. Those witnesses, many of whom were quite emotional, made it clear that sexual assaults are “far too common” on ships that serve ports in the United States.

According to recent reports, the Cruise Lines International Association, which disputes the claims of widespread sexual assaults on cruises, notes that approximately 22 million individuals vacation on these vessels every year. The Association did not send anyone to testify before the committee; however, it issued a statement to say that the hearing before the Senate presented a “distorted picture” of the safety record of the cruise industry. Still, the chairman of the National Center for Victims of Crime has stated that the risk of sexual crimes onboard ships is real and is getting higher.

Given the importance and seriousness of the issue, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, aimed at improving passenger protection on cruise liners. This Senate hearing was intended to gather information and raise awareness of the exact problem. With pressure from victims (and members of Congress), some of the major cruise lines started to voluntarily post their crime data online back in August of 2013. Nevertheless, a lawyer knows that posting the data online is simply not enough. The sad and horrific stories heard during the committee hearing highlighted the fact that there seems to be a lack of concern for the safety of cruisers, and the cruise industry continues to fail to address the issues.

Sexual Assault is Underreported on Cruise Ships

Over the years, the FBI has noted the prevalence of sexual assaults and rapes onboard ocean liners. More specifically, the agency noted that, of all the crimes at sea that get reported to them, sexual assault is the top reported and investigated crime. It is often quite difficult to obtain exact statistics with respect to the number of occurrences of rape and sexual assault that take place on cruise ships, in part due to the fact that many victims do not report the crime and many cruise liners fail to report (or underreport) the crimes.

Some vessels have started to release their sexual assault statistics, and the numbers indicate that the industry as a whole has not been completely transparent about the level of safety onboard. For instance, in 2012, 29 sexual assault crimes were reported to the FBI; however, the public only heard about 11 of those crimes. And of those above-mentioned 29 sexual assault crimes in 2012, 10 of the victims were minors, 18 were adults and 1 was noted as “other.” Our firm believes these numbers are extremely low and do not accurately reflect the number of sexual assault incidents that do occur. Knowledge is power, and the cruise ship rape attorneys at our law firm know that if you or a traveling companion is victimized, you have rights under the law and it is important for you to speak with a knowledgeable lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.

Recent Cruise Rape Statistics

Unfortunately, cruise ship rape and sexual assault are a growing reality for many passengers and crewmembers. Despite best efforts by individuals and cruise companies to decrease the frequency of these attacks, rape and sexual assault aboard cruise ships are the most common crime. Until recently, finding cruise ship rape statistics was a difficult task, but not anymore. There now exists a resource from the U.S. Department of Transportation, for curious passengers and crewmembers to get the most recent data on all cruise crimes.

The most recent statistics are from January 1st to March 31st of 2017. During that time, 10 passengers and six crewmembers suffered sexual assaults aboard their ship. This gives us a grand total number of 16, but it does not specifically distinguish the severity of the cases. It also does not account for the countless cases that go unreported every year.

That said, it is a starting point from which one can gain a better understanding of the current cruise ship rape situation. These most recent statistics should not frighten or intimidate individuals who are embarking on a cruise, but rather help illustrate that while a serious problem that they need to be mindful of, it is not one that should prevent anyone from taking cruises.

Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Facts

    1. 173 reports—No One Prosecuted. One major cruise line documented 173 reports of sexual assault or rape in a five-year period. Not a single alleged perpetrator was prosecuted in any of these cases.
    2. Maritime Industry Culture Outdated. A February 2013 article in Newsweek quotes Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) during the Clinton administration, who said the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors.” “The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,” Hall said. Ships may feel American but are mostly “flagged” in countries like the Bahamas or Panama, in order to operate outside of what Hall says are reasonable safety standards. “It is, and has been, an outlaw industry,” says Hall. “People who book cruises should be aware of that.”
    3. Cruise Industry Untruthful About Safety. Cruise ship sexual assault data released in August 2013 by four of the largest cruise ship operators in the industry, representing over 80 percent of the United States domestic cruise ship market share, revealed that the industry is not being entirely truthful with the cruising public about safety statistics. The issue surfaced when the Senate introduced legislation that will require accurate disclosures, if passed.
    4. Cruise Lines Fail to Report Crime. Before the issue of transparency in reporting crimes to the public was raised, a report from Senator John D. Rockefeller in 2013 indicated that cruise lines reported 29 sexual crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2012, but reported only 11 to the public. In the first six months of 2013 alone, 14 rape cases and 11 sexual assault cases were reported. This a significant difference between what the crime data provided by cruise lines to the FBI over the past few years has suggested.
    5. Sexual Assault Top Crime at Sea. According to the FBI , sexual assault is the leading crime reported to and investigated by the Bureau in the high seas (comprising 55 percent of the crimes at sea that are reported to the Bureau).
    6. Victims Don’t Always Report Assault. Sexual assault is one of the least reported violent crimes. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, as many as 60 percent of onshore sexual assault victims decline to report the crime. It is likely that many cruise passengers who experience sexual assault on a cruise also will not report the crime, and therefore such crimes never become part of industry cruise safety statistics.
    7. Passengers Can’t Confirm Rate of Crime at Sea. The cruise industry maintains that the rate of sexual assault at sea is significantly lower than the onshore rate of sexual assault. However, there is no reliable way to assess whether the cruise lines are fully and accurately reporting all onboard sexual assaults to federal authorities. The cruise industry is already expected to report cruise crime to the authorities, but what is reported to the FBI is not automatically made public. It is virtually impossible for passengers or independent third- parties to confirm whether each incident of sexual assault has been fully and properly recorded.

cruise ship sexual assaultUnless you or someone close to you experiences a sexual assault or rape on a cruise, it is easy to forget that the risk of sexual assaulted is very real. When you leave U.S. waters on a cruise ship, you also leave behind some of the protections that you enjoy on land as a U.S. citizen.

Jurisdiction: Who Can Hear a Case?

Criminal jurisdiction, or the ability for a particular court to exercise criminal punishment authority over a case, exists on cruise vessels, but it is intricate and usually involves a number of states or countries at the same time. Depending on where a vessel is located at the time of the criminal incident on the high seas, United States courts might have the right to exercise some level of jurisdiction over the case.

If a victim of a crime on the high seas is a U.S. citizen, for example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may be the lead investigating law enforcement agency. However, other nations may have jurisdiction as well. Because of the complexities of international law, law enforcement may not arrive on a vessel at sea until its next port call. International law and cooperative efforts to respond often drastically slow the response time. In the meantime, critical hours or days may have elapsed since the crime occurred. Evidence is often lost and little can be done by the time the police finally arrive. Cases disintegrate from an evidentiary standpoint.

As a practical matter, therefore, criminal law enforcement is largely ineffectual in a cruise ship sexual assault matter. Even victims of straightforward statutory rape cruise ship cases rarely see justice because of the practical complexities of coordinating law enforcement investigations with an appropriate agency and the movement of a ship.

Cases involving jurisdiction give a court the authority to render a decision in a case, meaning the court has a sufficient connection to the case to issue a binding order on the parties. Below are a few laws and cases governing jurisdictional issues:

State of Florida v. Matthew Stepansky, 761 So. 2d. 1027 (S. Ct. 2000): The Florida Supreme Court ruled that a state has the ability to try certain crimes committed on the high seas, though not directly committed in Florida.
Florida Statute Title XLVII, Chapter 910.006: Provides Florida law enforcement officials special maritime jurisdiction in certain crimes where:

  • The suspect aboard the ship is from Florida or a state with an agreement with Florida.
  • The victim is a Florida law enforcement officer aboard the ship in their official capacity.
  • The victim is a resident of Florida and the “act or omission is one of violence, detention, or depredation generally recognized as criminal.”

More than 50 percent of the ship passengers embarked from a Florida port and will ultimately disembark in Florida.
Where an element of the act or omission is an attempt or conspiracy to cause a substantial effect in Florida.
Where the state may apply criminal law under international law or treaty.

Title 18 United States Code, Chapter 7: Provides for special maritime jurisdiction when an offense is committed by or against a U.S. citizen in a place outside the jurisdiction of any nation. This also covers foreign vessels that have a United States arrival or departure port.

Strict Liability Responsibility of Cruise Lines

In some cases, the plaintiff does not need to prove an element of culpability, or intent to do wrong. A plaintiff need only demonstrate that the action occurred in order to prove the defendant guilty.

For example, in Naddeau v. Costley and Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 634 So. 2d 649 (Fla. App. 4th DCA 1994), the Florida District Court of Appeals found a cruise line strictly liable for a sexual assault committed by a crew member against a passenger. Strict liability removes the requirement to prove fault, such as negligence or intent, and only requires the plaintiff to prove that the tortious conduct occurred. This is a significant development for cruise ship assault victims.

Reporting the Cruise Ship Sexual Assault

sexual assault cruise

Sexual assault on cruise ships can only be prosecuted if properly reported. Believe it or not, one of the biggest impediments to prosecution is the victim’s hesitance to report the crime in the first place.

We understand the emotional and physical turmoil you may be experiencing after enduring an attack. However, it is always in your best interest to report the crime to the appropriate authorities. Without reporting the incident, you will not get a chance to obtain the justice you deserve. What’s more, your attacker may commit the same crime on someone else. So, for your sake and the sake of all others, do not be afraid to speak up about what has happened.

In addition to alerting onboard security, victims of cruise ship rape should also contact the FBI and United States Coast Guard if the incident occurred at sea. Although the cruise line will likely contact the FBI for you, you should not rely on them. You have every right to explain yourself and give a direct account of your story.

Going to the cruise infirmary to be treated and to document your physical injuries as a result of the attack and demand a rape test be performed is also very important. An examination by a qualified medical professional can allow for collection of evidence that is going to be needed for your case to resolve as best as possible. So, it’s in your best interest to refrain from destroying any evidence in the immediate aftermath or failing to collect it timely and appropriately for later use.

At the time of the incident, the details may be fresh in your mind. However, it’s likely that with time, or an active desire to forget that the incident took place, those details will become fuzzy. Thus, it can be very helpful to make notes about the circumstances leading up to the rape as well as to take pictures of any injuries sustained. This can be useful when speaking with a cruise ship rape lawyer when you decide who will handle your case.

The Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Assault on Cruise Ships

Unfortunately, very few liners enlist trained police officers to travel onboard and conduct proper investigations of sexual assault allegations. Sure, some well-intentioned crewmembers and trained security officers might be able to help with the investigation, but typically an adequate investigation is not done at all. Two common reasons why rape investigations are usually poor on board are:

  • Limited law enforcement on board. The cruise ship’s security staff members usually are the only law enforcement aboard a ship until it reaches its next port of call (often in a foreign country). This is problematic because a delay in conducting a proper investigation can cause evidence to be lost or destroyed and essentially hinders the possibility of a fair investigation.
  • Investigation delays. Delays in investigations can prevent many allegations of sexual assaults from ever reaching a courtroom. But if a sufficient amount of evidence is compiled to file a suit, then depending on the facts, the case will be heard either in a federal court or in the jurisdiction noted in the fine print of the passenger ticket.

Criminal vs. Civil Aspects of Cruise Ship Assault and Rape Cases

A criminal court can have jurisdiction over cases that involve rape and sexual assaults that occur on cruise ships, but jurisdiction might require the simultaneous involvement of several countries and/or states. Also, based on where the ship was at the time of the incident, or the citizenship or residency of the perpetrator or the victim, the U.S. might be entitled to exercise some level of jurisdiction.

Victims also should take note that if they choose to work with attorneys who handle rape and sexual assault causes, those attorneys also can assist them with holding the proper parties responsible for the incident from a civil standpoint. Cruise ship victims are entitled to file a lawsuit against the cruise line in order to gain compensation for pain and suffering, medical treatment and other incident-related expenses.

Victims can seek monetary damages in civil court, and oftentimes this is the best recourse they have to fully pursue their attackers, not in criminal court. If you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted and/or raped while onboard a ship, and you have questions about your rights, contact a cruise ship rape lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. right away.

Keeping Yourself and Your Loved Ones Safe from Sexual Assault on a Cruise Ship

sexual assault on cruise ships

Some cruise ships are very large vessels that have miles and miles of long walkways and halls where a passenger can become lost or confused. Given the layout of ships, such passageways can provide unscrupulous individuals with a prime opportunity to sexually assault and/or rape someone with almost no chance of being seen. While it is true that cruise employees are expected to go through a screening process prior to being hired, some cruise lines mistakenly hire individuals who end up attacking unsuspecting passengers.

However, it is not only crew members who pose threats to passengers. Other travelers, particularly those who have been drinking alcoholic beverages throughout the day, also can be dangerous and might take advantage of any chance to force themselves on someone. Depending on the facts of the case, any kind of unwelcomed sexual contact can be deemed a sexual assault. Additionally, if the assailant takes it a step further and forces intercourse on another, that can possibly be deemed as rape.

Don’t let your guard down. Do not automatically think you are safe on a ship. Many individuals view cruise ships as some sort of private city that floats on water. However, you should act in the same way you would on land when it comes to maintaining your personal safety. Unfortunately, hundreds of crimes take place every year while traveling the high seas, and even though some ships are equipped with sophisticated camera systems and security teams, none of those things will shield a traveler from being harmed while onboard. Additionally, reports have shown that crew members, not passengers, commit many of the sexual assaults that take place on ships. Accordingly, you should always remain alert and vigilant as you walk throughout the ship.

Four Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Sexual Assault on a Cruise

Vacationers are advised to keep the following things in mind as they go about enjoying their vacation and related activities:

  • Steer clear of isolated areas. One sure way for individuals to lessen their chances of being sexually assaulted while on a ship is to avoid walking in areas of the ship set off or isolated from the main areas. Unfortunately, those unscrupulous individuals who are out to assault others will likely be lurking in places away from camera surveillance or off limits to passengers. Always stay within eyesight and earshot of other travelers.
  • Don’t go out alone. Travel in pairs—or with several people. Generally, it is easier for an attacker to set his or her sights on a passenger who is walking around alone, as opposed to people who travel in pairs or larger groups. Sexual offenders tend to focus in on individuals who are alone, and they will try to gain their trust prior to them making their move. Try to stay with a group as often as possible while cruising, and if you are traveling with children, do not let them roam freely around the ship. Always keep children close by, even on ships that specifically cater to them.
  • Always watch your drinks. Keep an eye on your drink as it’s being made and afterward. There are many reported instances of date rape drugs being used. Don’t assume your drink is safe because a crew member serves it to you. You should use the same care you would use in a crowded bar on land.
  • Watch your back. As you go about the task of figuring out which activities you will most enjoy and which ones will give you an opportunity to make new friends, always remember to watch your back, especially when socializing with the other passengers onboard. Just like when you are on land, you are encouraged to choose your new friends and confidants wisely, making certain you never go to a stranger’s cabin alone or with others.

Justice for your Sexual Assault on a Cruise

Laws regarding sexual assault aboard a vessel can be quite complex. Because the assault can occur on the high seas, the governing law can be unclear. If you have suffered an assault on a cruise ship or other vessel, you should review the facts of your case with a competent attorney who has extensive experience with at-sea sexual assault incidents.

If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted while cruising, let one of our well-versed lawyers help you with your case. Contact a cruise ship rape lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. today.