Physical and/or Sexual Assaults by Crew Members Upon Passengers

Cruise lines advertise their floating cities as a place where people can go to forget all their cares. “Relax completely,” Princess urges its passengers, while Carnival’s motto is “Fun for All. All for Fun.”

Underneath the promises of carefree sightseeing, fun, food, and entertainment, though, lurks a real danger. Some passengers will be physically and/or sexually assaulted by crew members on their adventures of a lifetime.

It is impossible to calculate the exact number of passengers who have been physically or sexually victimized by the ship’s crew. Cruise ships are not required to make allegations public and, as on land, many victims do not report what happened to them.

The statistics that do exist are disturbing, to say the least. In June, 2009, CNN reported that physical and sexual assaults were the most common crimes committed aboard cruise ships. Between 2002 and 2007, the FBI reported opening 184 criminal cases for misconduct on cruise ships. Most of these cases were violent crimes, and nearly half listed one or more crew members as suspects.

How Can These Crimes Occur?

Many outraged, damaged, and bewildered passengers are left wondering how such a thing could have happened to them on their dream vacation. There are several factors that facilitate crime on the high seas.

First, a “Nightline” report that aired on 2/22/11 quoted the former head of security for Princess stating that there is actually very little security on each ship. Most often, rape and assault cases are handled by “risk management” teams whose job is to sweep the crime under the carpet rather than security teams who would focus more on catching and gathering interest to convict the assailant.

Second, cruise ships occasionally hire known sex offenders. A website called Cruise Bruise documented over half a dozen cases of this occurring in the last few years. These known offenders have the authority to move about the ship as they please. They often even have access to the passengers’ rooms.

Third, many victims never come forward. Cruise lines tend to encourage passengers to drink and party freely. A woman or man who was raped while intoxicated may feel ashamed or embarrassed and may worry that his or her life–not the rapist’s–will be examined publicly under a microscope.

Finally, it is very hard to convict crew members of assault. One lawyer who spoke on the “Nightline” report said that out of thirty cases he personally had handled, only one resulted in conviction. The perpetrator served three years. There are many impediments to an assault conviction, including the fact that most cruise ships fly under a foreign flag and many crew members are not citizens of the United States, or even citizens that have an extradition treaty with the United States.

This article is not meant to discourage people from taking cruises, which have the potential to be wonderful, relaxing vacation experiences. Rather, the article is meant to educate passengers about the security deficits and risks and to warn them to be safety-conscious aboard a cruise ship as they would be walking the streets of any unfamiliar city.