Cruise Ship Rape Attorney and Miami Sexual Assault Victim Lawyer

sexual assaultThe firm’s cruise ship rape attorneys and Miami sexual assault lawyers are called upon to help victims of crimes aboard cruise ships with alarming frequency. These crimes most often involve the rape or sexual assault of: (a) a cruise ship passenger by a crewmember, (b) a cruise ship passenger by a fellow passenger or (c) a crewmember by a fellow crewmember. The victims are most often adults, but minors also fall prey. Rapes and sexual assaults aboard cruise ships represent a serious security risk and are not isolated. In a recent case, a court ordered a cruise line to disclose all rapes and sexual assaults alleged to have occurred within a three-year period. The cruise line disclosed 53 instances of alleged sexual assaults and rapes aboard its vessels fleet wide.

Creating Law to Protect Cruise Passengers From Rape and Sexual Assault Crimes

Brais Brais Rusak’s cruise ship rape attorneys and Miami sexual assault lawyers are not only Board Certified Maritime Attorneys but have helped shape law to protect cruise passengers from shipboard sex crimes in the leading opinion of Doe v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162651 (S.D. Fla. 2012)(wherein a Federal Court for the first time recognized a cruise line’s duty to warn passengers of the risk of shipboard rapes and sexual assaults). See, discussion of opinion on firm’s Blog. Most often cruise passengers are victims of rape and sexual assault by either a crewmember or fellow passenger. The law regarding each type of crime is different.

Duty Owed by Cruise Lines – Passenger Upon Passenger Rape or Sexual Assault

In the case of a passenger upon passenger rape or sexual assault, cruise lines owe the duty of “reasonable care under the circumstances.” Generally, this means the cruise passenger must put forth evidence the cruise line had “notice” of the alleged dangerous condition. In other words, that the cruise line either knew or should have known of the propensity of the perpetrator to commit the rape or sexual assault. To establish or obviate this burden of proof, a skilled maritime practitioner will look for facts that support the cruise passenger’s elements of proof at trial, including:

  1. Red Flag Conduct: Was there some conduct by the perpetrator in advance of the intentional tort that should have placed the cruise line on notice that the assailant represented a risk of harm to one or more cruise ship passengers, and/or

  2. Cruise Line Created Dangerous Condition: Did the cruise line create the risk of harm or dangerous condition that led to the rape or sexual assault of the cruise passenger. The most obvious circumstance is the excess service of alcohol. If the cruise passenger can link the excess service of alcohol to the resulting harm (i.e., the rape or sexual assault), then the cruise passenger need not prove the cruise line had notice, since the dangerous condition was created by the cruise line.

Duty Owed by Cruise Lines – Crewmember Upon Passenger Rape or Sexual Assault

In the case of a crewmember upon passenger rape or sexual assault, cruise lines are held to a much higher standard of care. The cruise passenger victim does not need to prove that the cruise line knew or should have known of the assailant crewmember’s propensity to commit the sex crime. Instead, the cruise passenger needs to only prove the sex crime occurred, that it was not consensual and the full extent of the damages. As such, cruise ship companies are strictly liable for intentional torts and crimes, including assaults, sexual assaults and rapes committed by a crewmember upon a cruise ship passenger. This is true even though the cruise line did not have notice of a crewmember’s propensity to commit the crime or the opportunity to prevent the attack.

Defenses Raised by Cruise Lines in Every Sex Crime Case

Even if there is no doubt a cruise ship rape or sexual assault occurred, cruise lines raise the same defenses in every case. You ask, “Why?” At any later trial, the cruise passenger, through her attorneys, must prove by the greater weight of the evidence that the sex crime occurred. In other words, a cruise passenger does not necessarily win at trial because she was in fact raped or sexually assaulted. Rather, victory in a civil trial is achieved only when the greater weight of the evidence proves the sex crime occurred and disproves the cruise line’s defenses. Nonetheless, the following are the defenses raised in nearly every cruise ship rape and sexual assault case:

  1. It Never Happened: In other words, there was no sex crime and the victim is lying. In these types of cases every conceivable effort will be made by the cruise line to undermine the victim’s credibility. This defense is most often raised where there is little to no physical evidence and the victim failed sadly to report the incident while aboard the vessel.

  2. It Happened but it was Consensual: In other words, the victim was a willing participant in the sex act. Therefore, no sex crime can be proven and the cruise line cannot be held either negligent or strictly liable. This defense is most often raised when there is a history of familiarity between the victim and perpetrator, minimal physical injury and excess alcohol is involved.

  3. It Happened, it was Non-Consensual but the Perpetrator was Another Passenger (Not a Crewmember): In other words, it might have happened but absent evidence the cruise line knew or should have known that the passenger assailant posed a risk of harm, the cruise line cannot be held liable.

Reasons why Rapes and Sexual Assaults Occur on Cruise Ships

Over nearly three decades the firm’s cruise ship rape attorneys and Miami sexual assault attorneys have observed five circumstances that either individually or in combination seem to be always present when a rape or sexual assault occurs aboard a cruise ship:

  1. A false sense of security on the part of a cruise passenger,
  2. The complete and utter lack of any real security aboard cruise ships,
  3. The excess service of alcohol by cruise ship personnel,
  4. The unfortunate reality that a large percentage of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, and
  5. The crewmember’s gamble that he will be repatriated to his home country and not face criminal prosecution.
Cruise Passengers are Given a False Sense of Security

Cruise ship passengers are given a false sense of security by the glamour, glitz and glitter of modern day cruise ships. Advertisements and TV commercials portray cruise ship’s as floating amusement parks. The sheer size of today’s cruise ships along with uniformed officers give the impression they are safe and secure. Cruise ship vacationers are aboard to have fun. They give little or no thought about the risks associated with traveling on what amounts to a floating city. Cruise Lines seize upon this illusion and fail to warn or at best insufficiently warn passengers of the risk of being sexually assaulted or raped while vacationing on a luxury liner. There is good reason for this; cruise lines are in the business of filling their ships and maximizing profits.

A Complete Lack of Real Security Aboard Cruise Ships

There is no police force aboard cruise ships. Passengers look at a uniformed officer and believe they are safe. Crewmembers know otherwise. Shipboard “security” personnel are employees of the cruise line. They are not members of a police force or even employees of an independent company hired to provide security aboard the vessel. They are nearly all from third-world countries where unemployment is high and wages are low. In fact, crewmembers from these countries typically earn anywhere from three to four times what they could otherwise make in their home countries by working aboard cruise ships. While a cruise ship is sailing and until it returns to port, ship’s security are the only persons investigating a crime. There is little chance except in the most egregious circumstances that crewmembers investigating a sexual assault, rape or other crime will memorialize evidence adverse to their employer and risk retaliation, generally taking the form of a pretextually termination months later. The cruise ship rape attorneys and Miami sexual assault attorneys with Brais Brais Rusak work on a victim’s behalf to overcome problems with proving a shipboard rape or sexual assault.

Alcohol Increases Profits but Also the Risk of Sex Crimes

Cruise Lines have various profit centers. Cruise tickets, sale of shipboard merchandise and excursion tickets, fees for medical services, gambling in casinos and, finally, the sale of alcohol during a cruise all help to increase profits. Studies prove the excess service of alcohol substantially increases the likelihood of crime, including sexual assault and rape. More and more cruise lines restrict passengers from bringing alcohol aboard and if purchased in a port of call is held for the cruise passenger upon disembarkation from the ship. This leaves only one way for a passenger to become intoxicated aboard a cruise ship. They must be overserved by ship’s staff. Many times, the true alcoholic content of these drinks is masked by mixers, fruit and a variety of other masking additives. This can lead to a cruise passenger drinking far more shots of alcohol than they are accustomed to. The results can be dangerous. A cruise passenger who is vulnerable and unable to protect herself in the company of crewmembers who have been at sea for upwards to ten months or intoxicated male passengers whose usual moral inhibiters are compromised.

Under Reporting of Sex Crimes and Problems with Prosecution

Setting aside the excess service of alcohol, passengers are still at risk of being the victim of a rape or sexual assault aboard cruise ships. A variety of circumstances unique to travel aboard cruise ship can create dangerous conditions:

  1. Crewmembers working 12 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week and up to 10 months at a time,
  2. Isolation at sea where evidence and bodies can and do go missing,
  3. Jurisdictional and governing law issues involving crimes committed in foreign waters, and
  4. Minimal threat of prosecution of a foreign crewmember committing a crime outside the U.S.
FBI Jurisdiction Over Sex Crimes at Sea

The FBI has jurisdiction over sexual assaults at sea in these four circumstances:

  1. If the cruise vessel is owned in whole or in part by a United States company,
  2. If the victim or the perpetrator is a United States national or if the vessel departs or arrives in a United States port anytime during its voyage,
  3. If the offense was committed by or against a United States national outside the jurisdiction of any nation (i.e., in international waters), and
  4. If the offense occurred in the United States territorial sea within 12 miles of the United States coast.

Separate from the FBI’s jurisdiction over crimes, there is also the civil court system where an attorney you hire is charged with the responsibility of holding the cruise line financially accountable for your injuries.

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (“CVSSA”)

In July 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (“CVSSA”); legislation designed to improve security and safety of passengers aboard cruise ships. Among other things, the CVSSA was intended to provide the public with accurate figures regarding the number of certain crimes aboard cruise ships, including “homicide, suspicious death, a missing United States national, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, any offenses to which section 2241(aggravated sexual abuse), 2242 (sexual abuse), 2243 (sexual abuse of a minor or ward) or 2244(a)(abusive sexual contact) or (c)(offenses involving young children) of Title 18 applies… or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000.00.”

While the CVSSA was a significant step in the right direction, a major flaw was soon discovered. The cruise industry through supposed requests by the FBI and Coast Guard changed the language of the CVSSA so that only crimes “no longer under investigation by the FBI” were reported to the public via a portal maintained by the United States Coast Guard. Therefore, the public was not informed of two categories of shipboard sex crimes: (a) rapes and sexual assaults that the FBI all too often refused to investigate and (b) crimes actively under investigation by the FBI.

The CVSSA was amended in late 2014. In contrast to its earlier version, the new federal legislation requires cruise lines to report all crimes that occur onboard their cruise ships, “identify[ing] each crime or alleged crime committed or allegedly committed.” Additionally, the reports of crime and alleged crimes will now be made available to the public via a portal maintained by the Department of Transportation.

Even with the amendments to the CVSSA, there remains a substantial problem. Instead of reporting all sex crimes to the FBI, cruise lines are taking the position that certain sexual offenses or contact fall outside the reporting requirements of the CVSSA. Examples include:

  • Lewd and lascivious conduct,
  • Sexual conduct versus sexual assaults,
  • Molestation,
  • Groping, and
  • Inappropriate touching, all of which certain cruise lines allege fall outside the reporting requirements of the CVSSA.

When it comes to filling cruise ships, certain cruise lines know no bounds when it comes to underreporting the true risk of rapes and sexual assaults aboard cruise ships.

Damages and Injuries to Victims of Sex Crimes

A rape or sexual assault aboard a cruise ship is different from a typical personal injury involving physical harm. Aside from physical harm, a rape and sexual assault is devastating from an emotional and physiological standpoint as well. The damages typically sought in a rape or sexual assault claim include:

  • Physical harm,
  • Past and future medical and hospitalization costs,
  • Past and future lost wages,
  • Past and future mental and emotional pain and suffering, including PTSD and post sexual violence depression, and
  • Future rehabilitation expenses.

The lawyers at the law firm of Brais Brais Rusak understand that no amount of money will substitute for the trauma endured, turn back the clock or undo the pain and suffering associated with a rape or sexual assault. By holding a cruise line financially accountable through prosecution of a civil law suit, a cruise rape or ship sexual assault victim may gain a sense of closure and justice. These and time may allow a sexual assault victim to regain peace of mind and start the process of moving forward with one’s life.

What to do if Sexually Assaulted
  1. While this will certainly be against your natural instincts, it is recommended you NOT shower, and NOT wash your clothes or bedding (as this may damage or destroy valuable evidence) until you have had a forensic examination by qualified medical personnel.
  2. Report it to the ship’s Security Officer immediately. Have a trusted friend or family member accompany you, if possible. Insist that the scene of the crime be secured until law enforcement officials arrive.
  3. Go to the ship’s infirmary for treatment of any physical injuries and report the incident immediately. The medical personnel are required to alert the ship’s Security Officer, if you’ve not already done so. Insist upon a forensic examination to ensure that all evidence is collected. Retain your clothes in a new paper bag (never in a Ziploc or plastic bag) until FBI or U.S. Coast Guard officials arrive.
  4. If you are onboard the ship when the crime occurs, immediately telephone the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard about the crime, and get advice on how to proceed. You can reach the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. at 202-324-3000, while the emergency numbers for the U.S. Coast Guard are: (1) Atlantic Area Command Center (for Great Lakes, Gulf and East Coasts) - (757) 398-6390; (2) Pacific Area Command center (for the Hawaiian, Alaskan and Pacific Coasts) - (510) 437-3701.
  5. Get the names of all involved, i.e., perpetrator(s), shipboard security, investigating officers and witnesses.
  6. Get the names and contact details of all passengers with ANY information, i.e., anyone who saw or heard any of the events. Don’t forget the passengers in neighboring cabins who may have heard something.
  7. Take photos of your injuries and of the scene of the incident.
  8. When first available, whether in the next port of call or upon arrival in your disembarkation port, go the nearest rape treatment center. The FBI and/or local law enforcement should meet the ship upon its arrival.
  9. Obtain medical care for your physical and psychological injuries.
  10. Lastly, and as soon as possible, call or have someone on your behalf call a law firm specializing in the field of Admiralty and Maritime law who is familiar with cruise ship rape and sexual assault claims.
Get Help Today

The cruise ship rape attorneys and Miami sexual assault lawyers with Brais Brais Rusak maintain their principal office in Miami, Florida, but also routinely meet with clients throughout the United States and in satellite offices in Boston, Massachusetts and Houston, Texas on an appointment basis. The firm’s Board Certified, “AV” Rated Martindale Hubbell, and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates are here to help. To see if the firm can help you call 1-800-499-0551 from within the U.S., (305) 416-2901 from within the State of Florida or click Contact Us to complete a no obligation form for a free evaluation of your case.

Cruise Ship Sexual Assault / Rape Law – Maritime Law Blog
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