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HomeCruiseHow Major Cruise Ship Companies Are Failing Victims of Sexual Assault

How Major Cruise Ship Companies Are Failing Victims of Sexual Assault

Cruise ship companies are failing sexual assault victims, lawsuits seen by Business Insider show.
Experts told BI this is not a new issue, and that victims don’t get much support.
A lack of law enforcement and scarcity of trained staff are part of the problem, they said.
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In the early hours of February 9, 2023, the party at the Horizon Bar on the rear deck of the MSC Meraviglia was dying down.
Two women, however, approached the bartender and asked for one more drink, according to a lawsuit seen by Business Insider.
At first, the bartender, identified in the documents only as Ryan, told them that the bar was already closed — he was no longer serving alcohol.
But after some debate, Ryan changed his mind and motioned for one of the women to come to another bar in a “staff-only area” of the ship so that he could give her the promised drink.
What the lawsuit describes next was fast and violent — and in keeping with a growing number of passengers who say they were sexually assaulted at sea.
The bar was empty and as the woman stepped inside Ryan “overpowered” her and started “aggressively kissing her,” the lawsuit said.
In a panic, the unnamed woman tried to fight back, but Ryan “forcefully pushed her to the ground” and “aggressively forced his penis into her mouth,” it added. He then ejaculated “in her mouth, in her hair, on her face, on her legs and onto her clothing.”
MSC Cruises denied all the allegations in court, and the case was dismissed without prejudice in September.
A spokesperson for the company said in a statement to Business Insider: “The safety of our passengers and crew is our number one priority and we have a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of assault against a passenger or crew member.
“Though we are unable to comment on an individual case, we have an uncompromising code of conduct for crew members and do not tolerate inappropriate behavior. We offer support to victims, comply with all regional requirements to report incidents to the appropriate authorities, and assist fully with their investigations.”
The woman’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment from BI.
Guests on MSC Meraviglia gather by the pool as the sun sets and the ship prepares to take sail from Port Canaveral on Oct. 13, 2022. Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Sexual assault is rife on cruise ships
The case is one of 11 lawsuits reviewed by BI, which were filed between 2014 and 2023, and reveal the extent of sexual assault allegations on cruise ships.
While the lawsuits differ, they contain the same accusation: that cruise operators appear to be more interested in covering their tracks than protecting or helping victims.
Some also claimed the way their reports were handled indicated that security officials on cruise ships are often not trained sufficiently to deal with them.
Sexual assault has been the most reported crime aboard major cruise lines since at least 2015, according to data provided by the US Department of Transportation .
Between 2015 and 2022, there have been more than 450 reported allegations of sex crimes on cruise ships including on Carnival, MSC, and Disney Cruise Line, the data shows. Experts told BI that the number is likely much higher because victims are usually too scared or embarrassed to come forward.
Carnival, MSC, and Disney Cruise Line did not respond to requests for comment about the figures.
Cases are also difficult to track because there is no independent law enforcement that can investigate such crimes at sea.
While some of the victims are crew members, most of them are passengers, according to the data. A third of them are minors, a congressional report found in 2013.
In one incident from 2019, a woman on Carnival Valor alleges she was raped by one cruise ship employee in a cabin, while another crew member “watched and guarded” the door. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2021.
Another 2014 lawsuit claimed that a woman on MS Carnival Sensation was attacked by a group of male passengers who “forced their way into the stateroom, and physically and sexually attacked, assaulted and battered, and raped” her.
The woman and Carnival reached a confidential settlement agreement in 2021.
“They will do anything to keep victims quiet”
Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland who tracks cruise crimes on his website , told BI that companies want to cover up sexual assault allegations “as quickly as they can.”
“They will do anything to keep victims quiet,” he said. “They’ll try to give freebies, they’ll try to give a nicer cabin. They’ll do what they can to make a person feel better.”
The attempt to silence victims begins from the moment a report is made up until the courtroom — if victims even decide to take it that far, he added.
Cruise companies operating in and out of US ports are required to report crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), as per the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act that was passed in 2010.
But under the law, the only type of sex crime that needs to be reported by companies is rape, and cruise ship operators often have the liberty to define whether or not a report can be classified as such, Klein said.
“Of course, they are very likely, in filling out that form for the FBI, to be consulting with their legal managers to be sure what they put down corresponds with what people on shore want them to put down,” Klein told BI.
“So whether or not a passenger believes they’ve been sexually assaulted is immaterial. The cruise line makes that determination for them,” he added.
Crime scene tape marks off the area near the Princess Cruises Grand Princess as it sits docked in the Port of Oakland in California, on March 10, 2020. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In December 2018, a 21-year-old woman alleged she was raped by a crew member while traveling on the Carnival Miracle in the Caribbean Sea.
The woman, identified only as Jane Doe in court documents seen by BI, was leaving a late-night comedy show when she was stopped by a crew member on top of a flight of stairs. She was then pulled into a nearby storage closet and raped, it said.
After telling a friend what happened, she went to report the crime. The 21-year-old was questioned by security and had to give a video statement in which she identified the alleged perpetrator.
She was taken to a medical facility where she was provided with a rape kit.
But while going for the examination she was “subjected to numerous episodes of humiliation,” the lawsuit said, because she had to walk through “dozens of passengers who were waiting to disembark the ship.”
“They were ogling her as she passed through them in just a T-shirt as she was not provided any fresh clothes to wear,” the lawsuit claimed.
The woman’s lawyer later also told BuzzFeed News that Carnival did not preserve the rape kit, which means it could not have been used as evidence during litigation.
The woman eventually followed up with Carnival staff to see if the employee had been fired or if any disciplinary action was taken, according to the lawsuit.
“They did not respond,” it added.
The company also refused to provide her with access to any CCTV footage showing her with the assailant, any witness statements that were completed at Carnival’s request, and her video statement, the lawsuit alleged.
Carnival told the Washington Post last year that the alleged assailant was fired from the cruise line but that he was never charged.
Carnival was the defendant in the lawsuit, and in July 2022, the Miami-based federal court returned more than $10.2 million in favor of the passenger.
In a statement to BI, a Carnival spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on individual cases, but added: “While we recognize that even one incident is too many, allegations of major crimes on cruise ships are extremely rare.”
“In the unlikely event of a reported incident, our ships are equipped with security, medical staff, and facilities to handle and investigate alleged sexual assaults and provide immediate victim care services,” they added.
Carnival Conquest docked in Key West, Florida. Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Poorly trained staff are part of the problem, Jim Walker , a maritime lawyer who has represented more than 2,500 cruise ship clients over the last 25 years, told BI.
Many fail to collect critical evidence for victims of sexual assaults on cruise ships, making it harder to prove anything, he said.
While most of the perpetrators are other cruise passengers, a number of them are also crew members.
Walker told BI that many of these companies also don’t vet their crew members. When he sues cruise ship companies and obtains the perpetrator’s employment files, he often finds that there is virtually no pre-employment investigation before hiring crew members, Walker said.
“The truth is, cruise companies don’t know much about the employees they hire,” he told BI. “They often rely on third parties to do that for them.”
Walker also said that he has been part of cases where a crew member of one cruise company was fired, only to be hired by another major company several months later.
“Most crew members are hard-working and honest individuals,” he said. “But the cruise lines have not come up with an effective system to weed out the very few who are criminals.”
“I don’t know how they sleep at night, I really don’t”
Jamie Barnett, from the organization International Cruise Victims (ICV), told BI that the behavior of cruise companies makes victims feel “lost and very isolated.”
“The companies have virtually silenced every victim that comes forward, which is why we don’t hear much about this problem,” she added. “And it’s not going away anytime soon.”
“I don’t know how they sleep at night, I really don’t,” she said.
Barnett credited Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal for being one of the only lawmakers in Congress who is pushing to bring about tougher restrictions, including establishing a hotline for people who report crimes while on a cruise and making it compulsory for cruise ships to notify the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident.
But passing these laws will take time, and victims are left mostly alone in the meantime, she added.
Cruise companies, she said, “will fight tooth and nail before they would roll over and not do what they needed to do, to keep the public from knowing.”



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