A woman says she was raped by a crew member and contracted HIV while aboard a Princess Cruises ship in January 2022, according to a new lawsuit against the company.
The woman, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe of California, had been aboard the Sky Princess, a vessel that belongs to the Princess Cruises line, when an art-gallery employee approached and invited her to a forthcoming auction, according to the lawsuit filed in California federal court on January 3. The employee is identified in the lawsuit only as Aleksander, which the woman believes was the name on his name tag, her lawyer Michael Winkleman told Insider.
Days following the invitation from Aleksander, the woman went to the auction after having been drinking all day. She was “visibly intoxicated,” the lawsuit says, and had been “bumping into walls” and could not stand up well.
The woman says that after the auction, Aleksander asked for her name and cabin number. She says she gave him the information, believing he would help her find activities more suited to people in their 20s. She had previously told Aleksander that she was disappointed that Princess Cruises did not have “sufficient activities for people in her age group (late 20s),” the lawsuit says.
After the auction, Aleksander called the woman and asked her to meet him at the art gallery again.
Because she was “so drunk and because there were so few people around her age on the ship, she agreed to meet him,” the lawsuit says.
The woman says Aleksander then gave her another drink and began standing close to her. She felt his hand brush against and grip her butt cheeks, according to the lawsuit, and then she and Aleksander exited the gallery and he led her up two flights of stairs.
He pushed her into a closet and raped her, the lawsuit says. Though he initially used a condom, it came off during the rape, she alleges. As a result, the woman contracted HIV, according to the lawsuit.
In her final days aboard the cruise, the woman avoided the art gallery and felt afraid, she told Insider via her lawyer.
“I focused on getting through the remainder of the trip in a mental fog, numb, because I was trapped with him until the cruise was over,” she said in a statement via her lawyer.
Princess Cruises did not return Insider’s request for comment.
A lawyer for Park West Gallery, which is also named as a defendant in the suit, told Insider the auction company is investigating the allegations.
“At this time, no evidence has been provided to support the allegations made in the complaint, and no notice of this alleged incident was provided to us, the cruise line or law enforcement, even though the incident alleged occurred a year ago,” attorney Paul Schwiep wrote in an emailed statement. “In the company’s 25 years of successfully operating on cruise ships, there has never been an allegation of this kind made against an auctioneer.”
Aleksander is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit and his identity remains unknown to Insider.
Sexual assault is the most-reported crime on cruise ships
This isn’t the first time Princess has faced a lawsuit by a passenger alleging she was raped by a crew member.
In 2019, a different Jane Doe sued the cruise company, alleging she was raped by a crew member after spending the day drinking. The woman said she wasn’t capable of consenting “due to the degree of intoxication she was in,” the lawsuit says. The woman accused Princess of allowing such attacks to occur by encouraging binge drinking and failing to properly vet its staff. The case was settled in 2020 under undisclosed terms.
Sexual assault is consistently the most reported crime aboard major cruise lines, according to an Insider analysis of data compiled by the Department of Transportation. Congress passed a sweeping cruise safety law in 2010 which requires cruise companies operating in and out of US ports to report crimes to the FBI. That data is published by the DOT.
Sexual-assault allegations make up about three-quarters of all crimes reported aboard major cruise lines, according to the DOT. DOT data shows that there have been approximately 500 separate reported incidents of sexual assault aboard up to 13 major cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, since January 2010.
The majority of all reported sexual assaults aboard a Princess Cruises vessel since 2010 involved a crew member, according to Insider’s analysis. Of 17 reported sexual-assault incidents since January 2010, Princess Cruises employees were accused in 15 cases — or about 90% of them, DOT data shows.
Sexual assaults “happen all the time” aboard major cruise lines, Winkleman said, referring to it as a “hidden epidemic of rapes aboard cruise ships.” There’s a good chance there are far more cases of sexual assault, according to Winkleman, since the DOT data only includes reported incidents.
The DOT only collects data from ships covered by United States law. If a sexual assault occurs while docked at another country or while in waters operated by another government, claimants might have to adhere to the laws in that country, according to Winkleman.
“Because of issues of multiple countries or states having jurisdiction, that often creates issues with enforcement,” Winkleman said.
Cruise lines have their own law enforcement
Cruise ships these days have widespread surveillance, according to David Kosloske, a retired officer who was in charge of security aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel. But that doesn’t mean that every room is monitored, he said.
Passenger cabins don’t typically have cameras installed, for example. Neither do closets, which might also be unlocked at any given time and available for any crew member to step into, he said.
Fraternizing with passengers is generally prohibited on major cruise lines, according to Kosloske.
“Basically, the crew members do their duty and nothing beyond,” Kosloske said.
Security officers aboard cruise ships act as the main source of law and order, according to Kosloske.
And though they are responsible for training crew members and overseeing security operations aboard the vessel at all times, they’re still employees of the cruise line, Winkleman pointed out.
“There’s no independent law enforcement on cruise ships,” he said. Security officers may be motivated to protect the company “rather than making sure the incident gets reported.”
RAINN, a nonprofit organization that focuses on anti-sexual-violence efforts, said it works with some cruise lines to create training and procedures specifically to prevent sexual assault. In 2015, Royal Caribbean Cruises, for example, became the first corporation to earn compliance certification from a program designed by RAINN to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
Winkleman said the woman had been with a friend aboard the cruise. But she told Insider she did not reveal the sexual assault to anyone until months later.
The woman told Insider she kept the rape to herself because she “didn’t understand what had happened.” And after she was diagnosed with HIV, she feared that she’d be stigmatized and that “others who don’t understand would find out and reject me.”