Protect Yourself Against Sexual Assault on a Cruise Ship


Though rare, sexual assaults at sea do happen. Here’s how you can protect yourself. (Graphic: Thinkstock)

A former cruise ship crew member is facing prison time for a frightening crime. Federal prosecutors say that 25-year-old Karan Seechurn has pleaded guilty to entering the stateroom of a sleeping female passenger and sexually assaulting her last December on a cruise from Bayonne, N.J., to the Bahamas (prosecutors didn’t name the cruise ship where the crime occurred, but multiple reports say it was Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas).

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Seechurn is scheduled to be sentenced this August and faces a maximum of three years in prison.


Karan Seechurn is convicted of having entered his sleeping victim’s stateroom, groped her, and threatened to burn the ship if she told anyone. (Photo: Essex County Corrections)

The incident is a scary reminder that sexual assaults can and do happen aboard cruise ships. In 2014, the three top cruise companies — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian — reported 27 cases of alleged rape against cruise ship passengers and 18 alleged sexual assaults (crew members were victimized, too: five alleged rapes and seven alleged sexual assaults). Victims-advocate groups say that the actual numbers likely are significantly higher.

Watch: Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Investigation

The good news is that roughly 22 million people worldwide (and 13 million North Americans) enjoyed safe and incident-free cruises last year. And while crimes do occur — and at sea, as on land, they can’t always be prevented — there are several ways that cruise lines and safety advocates say you can protect yourself and your peace of mind aboard cruise ships.

Use the buddy system

If you can, avoid traveling alone. USA Today reports that single travelers are most likely to be targeted for violent crimes, including sexual assault. And when traveling with others, keep tabs on them; check in with each other at prescheduled times.

Related: Steady as She Goes: 7 Ways to Stay Safe on a Cruise

Watch the alcohol

Whether it’s physical violence or people falling overboard, alcohol is a common factor in many cruising calamities. Sexual assault is no exception. During a congressional hearing on cruise ship safety, an FBI official testified that more than half of cruise ship sexual assaults “were alcohol-related incidents.” So the rules for safe drinking on land also apply at sea. Drink in moderation. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Go drinking with a buddy (or buddies), and keep an eye on each other.


Watch your travel buddy — and how much you drink — aboard cruise ships. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Be mindful of the crew

There’s no need to be overly frightened of a cruise ship’s crew; the vast majority are genuinely friendly and are there to ensure that you have a great vacation. But use caution with them as you would any other stranger. If someone knocks on your door, claiming to be a member of the crew, and you didn’t request a visit, you can call the ship’s operator to confirm the person’s identity. Keep in mind that most cruise lines have extremely strict policies against crew members entering guest staterooms for any reason other than the performance of their jobs, so be wary of any crew member who requests to hang out with you in your stateroom. Likewise, passengers aren’t allowed into the “crew-only” sections of the ships.

Don’t go into a stranger’s stateroom, nor invite one into yours

On a cruise ship in particular, you’re never very far away from home. The bars, the clubs, the casino, and the pools are often steps away from your cabin. So in the rush of hard-partying excitement, it becomes all too easy to move the festivities to a more private venue. Still, remember how risky being alone with a stranger (or strangers) can be, and use your best judgment.


Your cabin is your safe space. Keep it secure. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Keep your cabin secure

During that congressional hearing, the FBI official also testified that most cruise ship sexual assaults take place in private cabins. This may go without saying, but you should keep your cabin locked at all times. Most cabin room doors lock automatically when you close them, so be sure to pull them closed completely after you enter. Use the deadbolt; all staterooms aboard major cruise ships have them. And don’t shout out your stateroom number to your travel companion(s) in a crowded area. Reveal this information privately, or — as you can get cabin assignments when you book or check in online — exchange your cabin information with each other before the trip.

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Report anything suspicious

The “see something / say something” philosophy on land works at sea too. If you see anything that resembles a security risk to yourself or others, alert the purser’s office and tell the staff.

Don’t venture alone into isolated areas

One may not think that a ship with 4,000 people aboard could have isolated areas. But even with the thousands of passengers aboard, the security personnel who patrol the ship, and the extensive video surveillance that many cruise ships employ these days, it’s still possible to find deserted areas aboard a cruise ship. So don’t go wandering through these areas in the interest of exploring or finding a shortcut.


Don’t go exploring in restricted or isolated areas of the ship. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Remain alert

Amid the fun and communal atmosphere of a cruise ship, it’s easy to relax a little too much. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reminds us that “the typical ship is akin to a small floating city filled with strangers.” So keep your guard up. Treat the ship as you would any unfamiliar environment. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t be too trusting of strangers. And if your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to it and act accordingly. It’s a rule you can employ on all of your vacations at sea as well as on land: Have fun on your trip, but don’t leave your common sense at home.

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