Sexual Assault and Rape on a Cruise Ship

June 30, 2020 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Sexual Assault and Rape on a Cruise Ship

What can you do if you were assaulted or raped on a cruise ship?

Your cruise vacation has been booked and you are picturing yourself laying poolside with a drink in hand.  You look forward to the food, gambling, excursions and shows – a fun and relaxing vacation. What you're not thinking about is being a victim of a crime, let alone a sexual assault or a rape.  The odds are in your favor as something happening to you on a cruise is a relatively low occurrence. Despite the fact that cruising is generally considered a safe way to vacation, that does not mean that crimes do not happen aboard the ship. For example, in the last year there have been a total of 137 major crimes reported on cruise ships.  That number comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Cruise Line Incident Reports. This report reveals eight different types of major crimes that have allegedly happened on cruise ships that sailed from ports in the United States. Even though 137 incidents are not many in comparison to the millions of cruise passengers that set sail each year, there are some very specific statistics that you should know about.

Recent Rise in Rape and Sexual Assaults on Cruises

Rapes and sexual assaults aboard cruise ships represent a serious security risk. The victims are often adults, but minors can also fall prey. These crimes most often involve the rape or sexual assault of:
  • a passenger by a crewmember;
  • a passenger by a fellow passenger; or
  • a crewmember by a fellow crewmember.
According to The Washington Post, statistics for July 1 through September 30, 2019 reveal a 67% increase in sexual assaults on cruise ships that left or returned to the United States compared to last year (35 vs. 21), and a 35% increase since the previous quarter (35 vs. 260).  Of those 35 reported sexual assaults that occurred during the third quarter of the year, the majority, 27, were allegedly committed by passengers, 5 by crew members and three by other people according to data compiled by the US Department of Transportation. Most of the assaults were from the largest cruise line, Carnival which had 20 alleged assaults – 17 allegedly committed by passengers, one by a crew member and two by unspecified individuals. Royal Caribbean had eight reports of sexual assault – four allegedly by passengers, three by crew members and one by an unspecified person.

Federal Law and Legislation Regarding Shipboard Sexual Assault

In all, 12 cruise lines submitted data about crimes allegedly committed shipboard in accordance with a federal law, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA), which lays out security requirements for ships that embark and disembark from U.S. ports. In July 2010, Congress passed the CVSSA legislation designed to improve security and safety of passengers aboard cruise ships. Among other things, the CVSSA was intended to provide the public with accurate figures regarding the number of certain crimes aboard cruise ships, including "homicide, suspicious death, a missing United States national, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, any offenses to which section 2241 (aggravated sexual abuse), 2242 (sexual abuse), 2243 (sexual abuse of a minor or ward) or 2244 (a)(abusive sexual contact) or (c)(offenses involving young children) of Title 18 applies… or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000.00." Sexual assault accounted for approximately 75% of the reported incidents in the most recent quarterly report. In November, a bill, the Cruise Passenger Protection Act (CPPA), was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new law is designed to build on CVSSA by strengthening “crime reporting and video surveillance requirements, improving medical standards, and holding cruise lines responsible for deaths, sexual assaults, and violent crimes at sea.” The Washington Post reports that the new bill “would make sure cruise lines notified the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident; report to authorities before a ship leaves a U.S. port if an incident happened in port; report allegations to the U.S. Consulate in the next port of call; have video surveillance equipment in all passenger common areas; and indicate whether crimes were committed against children, among other requirements.”

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape.  Some forms of sexual assault include but are not limited to:
  • Sexual penetration of the victim's body, also known as rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator's body
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching

What is Rape?

The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent.  The FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Reasons why Rape and Sexual Assaults Occur on Cruise Ships

There are many circumstances that either individually or in combination are often present when a rape or sexual assault occurs aboard a cruise ship:
  • Cruise ship passengers are given a false sense of security by the glamour and glitz of today's cruise ships.  People are there to have fun, relax, and they give little or no thought about the risks associated with traveling on what amounts to a floating city.
  • There is a lack of real security aboard cruise ships. Cruise ship "security" personnel are employees of the cruise line and are not members of a police force or even employees of an independent company hired to provide security aboard the vessel. A ship's security are the only persons investigating a crime while a cruise ship is sailing and until it returns to port.
  • The excess service and consumption of alcohol substantially increases the likelihood of crime, including sexual assault and rape.  A cruise passenger can be intentionally overserved by the ship's staff or the types of drinks and party atmosphere can lead to a passenger drinking far more than they are accustomed to, therefore rendering them vulnerable.
  • The fact that a large percentage of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported and there is a minimal threat of prosecution of a foreign crewmember committing a crime outside the U.S.  Crewmembers often gamble that they will be repatriated to their home country and not face criminal prosecution.

The Effects of Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is a traumatic and emotionally devastating experience that can happen to children, women, and men at any age. The crimes of sexual assault inflict physical and mental trauma to survivors and robs them of their sense of safety and well-being. Rape is the most under-reported crime in America, so it is difficult to know how many lives are affected by sexual violence. Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that 321.500 Americans 12 years and older are sexually assaulted or raped each year. Some victims of sexual assault experience memory problems, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and recurring thoughts, and feelings of isolation. Reactions will vary from person to person. Regardless of the form of mental and emotional issues that someone develops after experiencing a sexual assault, the mental anguish and disruption is almost always very intense. When someone suffers a sexual assault they have to contend with an array of emotions and psychological hurdles that can significantly affect their abilities at work, their relationships, and day-to-day living.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Sexual Assault

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an exceptionally debilitating disease that affects people that have undergone severe mental trauma caused by sexual assault. The intense effects of this experience can create an intense enough impression on a person that they cannot properly process their trauma which is the basis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the major symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder revolve around this inability to process trauma and include night terrors and nightmares involving the assault, flashbacks, aversion to things reminiscent of the assault, intense feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger when reminded of the experience, mood swings, and other intense behavioral and emotional changes. PTSD is a disease that is diagnosable and treatable with the right help. The only issue is that getting this help is not free.

What to do if you were Sexually Assaulted while on a Cruise Ship

  • If possible, do not shower until you have had an examination by qualified medical personnel.  Do not wash your clothing or bedding and retain these items in a new paper bag until the FBI or U.S. Coast Guard officials arrive.
  • Report the assault to the ship's security officer immediately
  • Go to the ship's infirmary for treatment of any physical injuries and get an examination – a rape kit examination.
  • Contact the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard by telephone and get advice on how to proceed.
  • Get the names of ALL involved, i.e., perpetrator(s), shipboard security, investigating officers and witnesses.
  • Get the names and contact information of all passengers with any information such as anyone who saw or heard any of the events.  This may include the passengers in neighboring cabins.
  • Take photos of your injuries and if possible, of the scene of the incident.
  • Upon arrival in your next port of call or upon arrival in your disembarkation port, go to the nearest rape treatment center.  The FBI and/or local law enforcement should meet the ship upon its arrival.
  • Obtain medical care for your physical and psychological injuries.
  • As soon as possible, call or have someone on your behalf call a law firm specializing in cruise ship sexual assault and rape claims.

Damages and Injuries to Victims of Cruise Ship Sex Crimes

A rape or sexual assault aboard a cruise ship is different from a typical personal injury involving physical harm. Aside from physical harm, rape and sexual assault are devastating from an emotional, psychological and physiological standpoint as well. The damages typically sought in a rape or sexual assault claim include:
  • Physical harm;
  • Past and future medical and hospitalization costs;
  • Past and future lost wages;
  • Past and future mental and emotional pain and suffering, including PTSD and post sexual violence depression, and
  • Future rehabilitation expenses.

Hire a Skilled Florida Cruise Ship Attorney in Florida

The attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA understand that no amount of money will substitute for the trauma endured, turn back the clock or undo the pain and suffering associated with a rape or sexual assault. By holding a cruise line financially accountable through prosecution of a civil law suit, a cruise ship sexual assault or rape victim may gain a sense of closure and justice. The compassionate and diligent attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA may be able to help. If you are a victim of sexual assault while on a cruise ship, you may be entitled to seek compensation for the economic and non-economic losses that your attack caused. By enlisting the legal assistance of Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA's experienced sexual assault and cruise ship attorneys, you are giving your case the best chance possible at recovering a settlement that you can be comfortable and satisfied with. Our lawyers have successfully secured settlements for sexual assault survivors from parties whose negligence allowed for such tragic experiences to occur. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA offers free consultations to those that are curious as to how we can assist in your sexual assault injury lawsuit. To contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA you can either contact us online or call our office at (727) 451-6900. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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