Child victims of sexual assault / exploitation aboard cruise ships have been handed a victory in Federal Court. Former U.S. Public Defender for the Southern District of Florida now U.S. District Court Judge, Kathleen Williams, ruled cruise lines can be held civilly liable for their crewmembers’ violation of the certain federal laws designed to protect children. Originally enacted as part of The Child Abuse Victims’ Right Act, Federal Statute 18 U.S.C. § 2255 provides minors who are victims of certain crimes involving sexual abuse, molestation, exploitation and other violent acts with a civil cause of action against those responsible. The federal statute, however, is silent as to whether only the perpetrator can be civilly penalized for such violent acts against children. Given the wording of the statute, an open legal question existed as to whether others responsible for the perpetrator’s conduct may also be held liable under the statute.
The scope of this federal statute was tested in a case involving an alleged sexual assault of a 17 year old passenger aboard a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises. The lawsuit alleges a cruise ship bartender served the minor dangerous amounts of alcohol then a cruise ship entertainer sexually assaulted and took sexually explicit photographs of her. The complaint filed in Miami, Florida set forth two counts against the cruise line under the statute. The lawsuit alleges the cruise line was vicariously liable for the actions of the crewmembers and such liability includes penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 2255.