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Sexual Assault and Rape on Cruise Ships

Sexual assaults are traumatic whenever they happen, but when they occur on a cruise ship the situation is even more difficult and complex. Unfortunately, cruise ships are not immune to crime. The U.S. Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) requires U.S. companies to report crimes including sexual assault and rape aboard the vessel. Crimes must be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Crimes aboard Cruise Ships

NBC News conducted a three-month investigation into cruise ship assaults. They talked to 10 victims of sexual assault and their families. They found that there are many assaults and rapes that may go unreported. According to the report, there were 92 alleged crimes reported by cruise ships in 2016. Of these, 62 were sexual assaults. They also reported that an estimated third of cruise ship sexual assault victims are minors. This information was based on a congressional report from 2013.

U.S. Senator Blumenthal recently spoke out about the problems stating that sexual assault crimes largely go “unsolved and unprosecuted” often because of the legal issues that arise when they take place at sea. The NBC report found that the FBI may not always conduct a thorough investigation. In instances where the incident occurred on foreign flagged ships, the FBI may not take any action and rarely are these crimes prosecuted.

Some cruise ships can be largely unsupervised. A minor could be befriended by another passenger or crew member. The young girl may be given alcoholic drinks, which can flow readily on these vacation vessels. When the vessel is at sea or has just left port, it could be several days until the ship reaches land again. It could be difficult to determine jurisdiction in a case where the crime was committed in open waters.

Cruise Ship Rape Statistics

The U.S. Coast Guard gathers data that is reported from United States cruise ships. Reports are released quarterly and provide details of alleged criminal activity including sexual assault reported by each U.S. company for the period.

During the reporting period from April 1, 2017, through June 30, 2017, there was a total of 21 reported sexual assaults. This number includes 19 reported by passengers and two reported by crew members. In the previous period in 2017 from Jan. 1 through March 31, 2016, total sexual assaults were reported of which ten were reported by passengers and six by crew members.

Rapes and sexual assaults might be committed by either passengers or crew members. Many crew members are not U.S. citizens. In fact, it is quite likely that some of them may be nationals of another country. If a crime is perpetrated by a crew member who is not a U.S. citizen, there may be little the cruise ship company will do other than fire the employee and send him home.

It is important to note that crimes are reported by the companies themselves. This means that there is a potential for some sexual assaults to go unreported. According to the NBC report and another investigative report by Inside Edition point out. That report details a young woman who alleges she was brutally raped by an employee. The company interviewed the employee and gave him a breathalyzer test. However, the employee stated the sex was consensual so nothing was done and no criminal charges were filed. The woman, in this case, has since filed a lawsuit against the cruise line.

How Cruise Ships Handle Crime Reports

Cruise lines generally have their own security departments to handle problems including crime that takes place on their vessels. When a passenger, or crew member, report a crime the security team should interview the victim, gather information and preserve evidence. The medical team is supposed to immediately perform an examination utilizing a rape kit. This evidence is supposed to be gathered as soon after the report as possible. All too often, a cruise ship rape victim reports never having been examined and only briefly interviewed.

Problems can occur when trying to prosecute such crimes, particularly when there is little or no evidence preserved. Additionally, the crime may not be investigated until the ship returns to port, which could be several or more days. Further complications arise when jurisdiction is undetermined. Sometimes the local police will handle an investigation when the ship docks. It is left entirely up to the cruise company themselves to preliminarily investigate the matter. They should be able to review surveillance video, interview witnesses and conduct a medical examination using a rape kit. If these things aren’t immediately done the evidence may be lost forever.

Some rape victims are afraid to come forward to report the crime. Just as in rape cases on land, some people feel as though they somehow allowed the victim to commit the crime.  Or, the rape victim could be scared that the perpetrator will retaliate since both are still aboard the ship. A crew member who was victimized may be afraid of losing her job if she reports a crime against a fellow employee.

Protecting U.S. Rape Victims

The United States has jurisdiction over ships that fly the U.S. flag as well as over any ship when it is within the jurisdiction of the United States. The FBI also can prosecute any crime that was committed against a U.S. citizen regardless of where the crime occurred. If a sexual assault or any other serious crime happened within the U.S. territorial waters, the FBI has the right to prosecute. However, it can be difficult for the United States to coordinate or pursue an investigation when it occurred in another country or under a different jurisdiction. While they have the right to do so, the process can be difficult or severely hampered.

Cruise ship crimes may be difficult to prosecute. Each ship is based in a specific port and flies the flag of a particular country. The laws regarding crimes at sea may be complex at best. Those who were sexually assaulted while aboard a cruise ship have legal rights including the ability to take legal action against the company for failing to provide a safe environment for passengers and employees.

Sexual Assault and Rape on Cruise Ships
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