A recent jury verdict issued in a federal court sexual-assault case against Carnival Cruise Line brought attention to what some experts say is a lesser-known danger on cruise ships.
The jury in the Southern District of Florida in late July found that the cruise line owes more than $10 million to a woman who alleged a crew member, Fredy Anggara, raped her during a 2018 cruise, court documents show. He was not named as a defendant.
The jury found that Carnival was not negligent. The cruise line denied the allegations in the lawsuit, and Anggara was fired after the incident was reported "based on Carnival’s zero-tolerance policy for crew fraternization with guests," according to a statement to USA TODAY.
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"The crewmember admitted that he had a consensual sexual encounter with the guest which is consistent with an investigation by the FBI that concluded the encounter was consensual," Carnival told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. The cruise line intends to appeal.
The jury found that Anggara did sexually assault the woman, who filed the lawsuit as Jane Doe. But Daniel Courtney, the lawyer who represented her, said the FBI did not bring criminal charges against him.
The cruise line added:
The safety and security of Carnival guests is paramount. Carnival complies with all applicable rules and regulations for security and guest safety, including the U.S. Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act and U.S. Coast Guard requirements. Carnival is also RAINN-certified and follows its guidelines for handling and investigating alleged sexual assaults.
Erinn Robinson, director of media relations at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, told USA TODAY that the organization reviewed Carnival's prevention and response programs in 2018 and "noted their compliance with best practice standards." She said that the assessment was valid until June 29, 2021.
When asked for comment on that, Carnival spokesperson AnneMarie Mathews said in an email that it had "expired when we were in our operational pause," and that the line would get recertified as soon as possible.
The case, however, is one of many.
"I think the general cruising public is just not aware of the prevalence of rapes and sexual assaults on cruise ships," said Michael Winkleman, a maritime attorney with Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A.
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How many sexual assaults are committed on cruise ships?
There were 101 allegations of sexual assault on cruise ships embarking and disembarking in the United States in 2019, and there were 82 the year before, according to cruise-line incident reports from the Department of Transportation.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down cruising for most of 2020, and the numbers have not been updated since travel resumed.
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Winkelman believes alcohol plays a role and cited the absence of "independent law enforcement" on board as a contributing factor, though ships do have security.
Robinson of RAINN emphasized that "it is never the fault of the victim."
"Regardless of the circumstance of an instance of sexual violence, only the perpetrator is responsible," she said.
Anne Madison, a spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY in an email, "Cruise ships are one of the safest vacation options in the world, with rates of serious crimes that are exceedingly lower than those on land due to multiple layers of security, allegations of major crimes on cruise ships are extremely rare."
She noted that cruise lines face "more robust civil liability" because of maritime law, which says they are "strictly liable" for an assault by an employee against a passenger.
According to CLIA policy, cruise lines also have to report any allegation of a serious crime on oceangoing sailings anywhere in the world, Madison said, adding that federal law requires criminal allegations made on cruises to or from the U.S. to be recorded in a "Crime Log" that authorities can access.
"Serious crimes on these voyages must also be reported directly to federal authorities as soon as possible," she said.
What can victims of sexual assault on a cruise do?
Robinson said the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 entitles passengers to a security guide from the ship, detailing who they can contact in the instance of sexual violence and criminal-law procedures in waters the ship will visit during its sailing.
She stressed that there "is no one way to respond to incidents of sexual violence," but those who are sexually assaulted may want to seek medical care in the immediate aftermath to check for and treat any injuries.
If passengers are at sea, they can seek care from the ship's medical personnel, or visit the nearest hospital if they are docked. Robinson said passengers have the right to a sexual-assault forensic exam, and noted that the law protects passengers' right to confidentiality.
If a survivor wants to have a forensic exam done, RAINN recommends avoiding showering, changing clothes or cleaning the area where the assault occurred in order to preserve evidence, Robinson said. Travelers who are outside the country at the time of the crime can also find support at the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate.
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Passengers can call RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or access an online chat via its website (click here).
Winkleman also advised immediately reporting the crime to the ship's crew as well as law enforcement, and contacting an experienced maritime attorney so that passengers can understand their rights.
Who has jurisdiction over sexual assaults on cruise ships?
If the victim is a U.S. citizen, the FBI has jurisdiction over the crime, Winkleman said. But they may not be the only law-enforcement officials involved.
There are other factors that can determine that, including the location of the ship at the time of the crime and where the ship is flagged (or registered). Multiple entities, such as authorities where a ship is in port, can have jurisdiction at the same time.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is sexual assault common on cruise ships? Resources, statistics.