Sexual Assaults on Ships Are All Too Common

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. An experienced cruise ship rape lawyer is well aware that many cruise lines often mislead excited vacationers by lulling them into a false sense of security and safety while they are onboard the large “floating city” with others. However, those in attendance at the hearing heard in no uncertain terms that crime still exists—even when floating on the high seas.

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.

The Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Assaults

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.

Handling of Sexual Assault and Rape on Ocean Liners

Being sexually assaulted and/or raped while traveling on a cruise ship can be a traumatic experience for the victim and those traveling with him or her. The devastation is not only physical, but also emotional and psychological. Cruisers typically view cruising as a fun and affordable way to vacation and enjoy new experiences with their loved ones; however, the trip can turn tragic in only a short period of time.

A cruise ship rape attorney at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. who regularly works with cruise ship victims is well aware that the nonexistence of law enforcement officers on cruise ships, along with a certain level of isolation that comes with cruising the high seas, increases the probability of crimes being committed onboard. That said, when it comes to rape and sexual assault crimes, many individuals may have questions or concerns with how such crimes are viewed and handled while cruising. Our firm’s legal team can assist you with answering those questions.

Cruise Ships: Prime Ground for Rape and Sexual Assault

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.

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.

Don’t Be a Target for Sexual Assault on a Cruise

When taking cruises, travelers tend to let their hair down and relax a bit more than usual. So much so that they may place some of their typical safety concerns on the shelf until they return to shore. However, maritime professionals understand that sexual assault on ships happens more frequently than many people realize. Some travelers let their guard down while on a cruise because they are not exposed to the typical outside forces that may arise while on land, and – after all – they are on vacation. While there is no way to know whether you or your travel companions will be attacked while onboard a cruise, there are ways to help lower the odds of becoming a target. It is also helpful to know what to do after an attack or injury.

Five 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

These are important things to keep in mind as you head off on a cruise vacation. You should focus on having a good time, but don’t be a moving target for sexual assault. Life on a cruise is a little different from the real world, and you should always keep your safety at the forefront of your mind.