Sexual Assaults on Cruise Lines Bring #MeToo Offshore

Over the past year, there’s been a surge of empowerment among women and men who’ve experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault in their lives. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have reshaped the cultural conversation about these terrible acts and given victims the confidence to speak up about their assault.

These movements were initially spurred by detailed accounts of assault and harassment by celebrities in the entertainment industry. However, it’s sparked a push for all victims of assault and harassment to stand up and take the power back from their abuser. While the focus has been primarily placed on incidences in the workplace and at home, there’s been an increase in sexual assault on the high seas as well.

Cruise vacations continue to be a popular choice for those looking to get away. According to statistics from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the cruise industry has been the fastest growing category in the travel leisure market since 1980, with demands for cruises increasing 62 percent from 2005 to 2015. While these stats show the popularity of cruises, the incidence of sexual assault has become a problem in recent years.

In 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) which serves as a guide for cruise lines to address safety concerns, provide measures to prevent sexual assault, as well as provide guidelines on appropriately responding to these situations. It also explicitly lays out requirements that cruise lines must provide passengers with access to resources on how to get medical attention, forensic tests, and file reports if a sexual assault incident occurs. Unfortunately, however, assaults continue to happen.

Sexual Assault By the Numbers

Because of the confined environment, lack of quality crewmembers, and ill-equipped and improperly trained security personnel, the potential for sexual assault is real. This is evidenced by the increase of sexual assault allegations made to the FBI in recent years. According to data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 76 people reported an alleged sexual assault to the FBI in 2017, a 23 percent increase from 2016.

According to DOT’s quarterly cruise line incident report, of the 76 sexual assault allegations made to the FBI in 2017, 59 were committed by passengers, 16 by a crewmember, and one by other. Of the three major cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Lines had the most incidences over the last two years, with 28 in 2016 and 35 in 2017. Royal Caribbean Cruises reported 15 in 2016 and 17 in 2017, and Norwegian Cruise Line with 11 in 2016 and 15 in 2017.

That’s an increase for each of the three major cruise lines. While those numbers may not jump out, every customer has the right to feel safe when they embark on a cruise.

What To Do Next

As a passenger, there’s little you can do in terms of ensuring there are enough properly trained security personnel and equipment on the ship. However, in the unfortunate event that you experience sexual assault on a cruise by either a fellow passenger or crewmember, there are certain actions to take for protection and to help bring the guilty party to justice.

  • Report the crime: As soon as possible, report the incident to the ship’s security officer and to the FBI. You have the right to call and speak with an FBI agent and the cruise line has an obligation to allow that.
  • Get medical attention: After reporting the assault, go to the ship’s infirmary to report the events to medical personnel and to seek treatment for any physical injuries. In the case of rape, avoid showering or washing clothes or bed sheets. This may be difficult, but it can be important in preserving evidence.
  • Collect information: Try to obtain information on the perpetrator. Also collect any information from witnesses or those nearby who may have seen or heard anything before, during, or after the incident.
  • Take photos: Taking photos of any physical injuries suffered and the environment in which the incident occurred is extremely important. These will provide evidence with time stamps to help the claim.
  • Seek medical care onshore: Once the ship is at a U.S. port, go to the nearest hospital for treatment. All U.S. hospitals have protocols for assault and rape and can provide the appropriate testing and treatment.
  • Get psychological care: Sexual assault or rape can cause tremendous mental and emotional unease. It’s important to get the proper mental health care to help recovery.
  • Call an experienced lawyer: It’s important to know that any sexual assault is not the fault of the victim but the fault of those who committed the crime. To pursue legal action, there are important steps that must be taken, such as filing the claim in the proper venue (location). An experienced maritime lawyer can help during this difficult time.

Understanding what to do after a traumatic experience such as sexual assault on a cruise can greatly help recovery and hopefully continue to shed light on the problem. Knowing that there’s a movement across the world that supports and empowers the victims of abuse will further the conversation and encourage the changes needed to protect cruise passengers with better security and safety protocols.

Awais Ahmed is a student, blogger and digital marketer who helps small entrepreneurs to improve their online presence. He has a range of interests including technology, apps and small business.