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Cruise Ship Passenger Sexual Assault / Rape – Why it Happens, Your Rights and What to Do If Attacked

Rape.pngIt is terrible but sexual assaults / rapes occur on cruise ships. In fact, during the short period of April 1, 2007 – August 24, 2007 the 25 major cruise lines that makes up the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reported 41 instances of sexual assaults / rapes occurring aboard their ships. Such a high number is staggering. Based on the 41 reports, the FBI opened 13 investigative cases. According to the FBI, 5 of these cases were later closed due to victim reluctance to press charges or because the goverment declined to prosecute. As of September 2007, only 8 of these cases remained under investigation. This article is meant to explain why sexual assaults / rapes occur on cruise ships, the victim’s rights and what to do if sexually assaulted during a cruise.

Reasons Why Sexual Assaults / Rapes Occur on Cruise Ships

Cruise ships are floating cities with thousands of crew members from every corner of the world and every level of social background. Though there are multiple reasons why sexual assaults occur on cruise ship, these are the most common.

Failure to Perform Detailed Background Checks

Cruise Lines staff their ships without performing a detailed background check. An example that illustrates this point is the Carnival Cruise Line spa manager who was recently arrested for sexually assaulting a minor while he was a coach at a California gymnastics school in 2002. Incredibly, the spa manager worked for various cruise lines (including Disney Cruise Lines) for 8 years all the while being listed on California’s Most Wanted List. Though Carnival claims it preformed a background check prior to letting this person serve as a spa manager, it seems inconceivable that a detailed background check would miss the fact that the person was on California’s most wanted list.

Failure to Provide Adequate On-Board Security

Though modern cruise ships hold upwards to 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew, the ship’s security team is usually only made up of around 10 individuals. Not having a high security presence provides opportunity for sexual predators.

Crew Access to Passenger Stateroom

Nearly every cruise ship provides certain crew member key cards to gain access to state rooms for cleaning and delivery of dry-cleaning, gifts and room service. These key cards have been also used from more sinister purposes. In an effort to combat sexual assaults arising from crew access to staterooms, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act of 2010 which, among other things, requires cruise lines to restrict which crew members have access to the staterooms and the times of day the crew members can access the staterooms.

Strict Liability

Maritime law holds Cruise Lines strictly responsible for the sexual assault / rape of their passengers by crew members employed aboard the vessel. This means the cruise line will still be liable even if the crew member did not have a history of such actions or the cruise line could not have prevented the attack. This, however, does not mean the victim will not face the inevitable questions regarding previous relationships, history of promiscuity, reasons for traveling on the cruise, alcohol consumed, dress attire, consent and the litany of usual additional inquires.


Though no amount of money can make up for being sexually attacked, as a victim of a sexual assault or rape aboard a cruise ship you are entitled to compensation for medical treatment, pain and suffering, mental and emotional anguish and other injuries experienced in the past or likely to be experienced in the future.

What to Do If Sexually Assaulted or Raped

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) recommends the following if sexually assaulted or raped:

  1. Find a safe environment – anywhere away from the attacker. Ask a trusted friend to stay with you for moral support.
  2. Know that what happened was not your fault and that now you should do what is best for you.
  3. Report the attack to the authorities. If you want more information, a counselor on the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE can help you understand the process.
    • To preserve evidence of the attack – don’t bathe or brush your teeth.
    • Write down all the details you can recall about the attack & the attacker.
    • Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of STDs and pregnancy.
    • To preserve forensic evidence, ask the hospital to conduct a rape kit exam.
    • If you suspect you may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be collected. The sample will need to be analyzed later on by a forensic lab.
  4. If you know that you will never report the incident, there are some things you should still consider:
  5. Recognize that healing from rape takes time. Give yourself the time you need.
  6. Know that it’s never too late to call. Even if the attack happened years ago, the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) or the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline can still help. Many victims do not realize they need help until months or years later.
Additional Information

Click here for additional information concerning your rights if sexually assaulted or raped while aboard a cruise ship.

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