Sexual assault allegations on cruise ships rose last year, federal data shows.
There were 131 sex crimes reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2023 on ships embarking and disembarking in the United States, including 52 instances of sexual assault and 79 instances of rape, according to cruise line incident reports from the Department of Transportation.
Those are up from 87 alleged sexual assaults in 2022, and 101 in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the cruise industry down (cruising resumed in mid-2021).
There were another 82 in 2018. Available incident reports for those three years do not distinguish between sexual assault and rape.
The actual numbers may be even higher. More than two out of three of all sexual assaults are not reported, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Among the alleged sex crimes reported in 2023, 98 were committed by passengers, while 27 were committed by crew members. Six were listed as being committed by “unknown” or “other.”
Anne Madison, a spokesperson for the industry’s leading trade organization Cruise Lines International Association, maintained that cruises are secure means of travel.
“Cruise ships are one of the safest vacation options in the world, with rates of serious crimes that are exceedingly lower than those on land due to multiple layers of security and the nature of cruising,” she told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. “Cruise lines have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to criminal behavior, and allegations of major crimes on cruise ships are extremely rare.”
CLIA estimated that 31.5 million cruise passengers would sail in 2023 – 106% of 2019 numbers – according to its State of the Cruise Industry report. Madison did not yet have the final numbers to share.
Cruise lines are also “subject to much more robust civil liability due to maritime law,” she said, and are “strictly liable” for assaults against guests by employees. Cruises to or from the U.S. must comply with federal crime reporting requirements, and CLIA policy requires member lines to report allegations of serious crime on any oceangoing voyage, no matter where the ship is sailing or registered.
However, Michael Winkleman, a maritime attorney with Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., told USA TODAY in 2022 that these kinds of crimes are more common than travelers may realize. “I think the general cruising public is just not aware of the prevalence of rapes and sexual assaults on cruise ships,” he said.
Winkleman said alcohol and the lack of “independent law enforcement” on board both play a role (though ships have security).
But Erinn Robinson, director of media relations at RAINN, emphasized at the time that the victim is never at fault. “Regardless of the circumstance of an instance of sexual violence, only the perpetrator is responsible,” she said.