First Steps After a Rape on A Cruise Ship
There are few things more terrifying than the thought of being raped or sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, the chances of this atrocity happening are greater at sea than on land due to a variety of factors most of which stem from the absence of an independent body of law enforcement aboard each ship. For this reason, one should take extra precautions to protect themselves, but this article addresses what to do should the unthinkable occur.
Most importantly, all victims must know that you have rights and we are here to help you! The immediate aftermath can be just as terrifying as the assault itself, but all victims must take steps to protect their rights. Sadly, many victims are afraid to come forward for various, valid reasons like fear of retaliation, embarrassment or losing their job, but coming forward is the best, if not only, way to ensure accountability.
U.S. FEDERAL LAW WAS PASSED TO HELP PROTECT YOU AND YOUR RIGHTS
Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) in 2010 to address safety issues on cruise ships. The act required cruise lines for the first time to report serious crimes that take place onboard cruise ships, including sexual assault incidents.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, sexual assault is the most commonly reported crime on cruise ships. By all accounts, the rate of sexual assault on cruise ships is increasing.
Crewmembers have rights that can be enforced when a rape or sexual assault occurs. This can include entitled to significant compensation against their employer or shipowner. With the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, generally known as the Jones Act, crewmembers who qualify as seaman are protected. Under the Jones Act, crewmembers have a right to make a claim against their employer for a negligence cause of action, which includes rape, battery and sexual assault.
Crewmembers are also automatically entitled to benefits when they are recovering from illnesses or injuries sustained on the job, regardless of the cause of the injury. These benefits cover their necessary household and medical expenses after sustaining injuries due to rape or sexual assault. This also includes psychological or psychiatric care. Their benefits are covered until a doctor has determined that the victim has fully recovered from a medical perspective.
In addition to the automatic benefits that any injured or assaulted crewmember is entitled to, a crewmember may be entitled to significant compensation for the incident including pain and suffering and lost wages, among many other potential types of damages available.
Who Has Jurisdiction
Don’t make the mistake of thinking onboard security personnel has any real power in the event of a serious crime. And they are not necessarily there to protect you, instead they are there to protect the cruise line.
If you are a U.S. citizen who has been the victim of a crime while on a cruise ship, then the FBI has jurisdiction over the crime. This is why it is critically important to make sure they are notified and involved as early as possible.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, then generally speaking, the authorities of the nearest port will have jurisdiction over the matter, as well as the Flag state of the vessel. While this may sound confusing, this is why it is essential to find an experienced maritime attorney to help you ASAP. And it is equally essential to report the incident.
What to Do After a Cruise Ship Sexual Assault
We hope and pray you never need this advice, but if you are the victim of a sexual assault or similar crime aboard a cruise ship, it is important to take the right steps afterwards:
- First, Report the crime. If your assault occurred onboard a ship, you can report it to a ship security officer as soon as possible. You can insist that the crime scene be properly secured and maintained until law enforcement officers can investigate. You may also report a crime to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the FBI.
- Don’t be convinced by shipboard management of any rank that it is better to not report the incident! We have heard far too many stories of victims being told by supervisors or other crew members that they should not report the incident, for a variety of ridiculous reasons. Be prepared for this type of misconduct and be ready to stand strong and report!
- Seek medical attention for any possible injuries you may have suffered. If the ship is at sea, go to the onboard medical facilities. If the ship is in port, or as soon as it has reached a port, you should get checked out at a fully equipped hospital.
- Have a sexual assault forensic exam conducted. This can help collect evidence such as DNA that can prove the identity of your assailant. If you plan to undergo a forensic exam, it is vital to avoid compromising evidence by not changing clothes or showering until the exam has been completed.
- Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you are in or the next port the ship stops in. The consulate cannot provide legal counsel, but they are available to help with emergency assistance and law enforcement.
- If you can, try to write down as much as you can remember about the incident while your memory is fresh, and get contact information for any witnesses who were present. You may also want to take photos of any injuries you sustained during the incident.
- Get counseling. In the immediate aftermath of a crime, U.S. embassy or consulate employees may be able to help. You can also contact RAINN for assistance. Being assaulted or raped at any given time is traumatic and requires support. When you are away from family and friends you may feel alone. It is critical to reach out to welfare resources that can assist you, including someone that you can trust onboard, at a seafarer’s welfare organization such as SeaMe, or a friend or trusted advisor. Don’t be ashamed, you deserve help. Most importantly, it is not your fault.
- Seek legal advice. Because cruise ships operate under maritime law, it is vitally important to seek the assistance and advice of qualified maritime law attorneys who are familiar with the laws, regulations, and time constraints involved in bringing legal actions against cruise lines.
The award-winning attorneys of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman are highly experienced and knowledgeable cruise ship rape lawyers who are here to help. They were named 2020 “Lawyer of the Year” in Admiralty and Maritime by US News & World Report so you can be sure that they have the knowledge and experience you need. In your time of greatest need, let us be your trusted advocate. You can contact them at 877-233-1238.