Top Ten Reasons Not To Cruise: No. 1 - Cruise Lines Are A Perfect Place To Sexually Abuse Children

Cruise Critic ran an article last week about the Top 10 Reasons Not To Cruise  When Cruise Critic claimed "Cruise Ships are Family Friendly" and posted the photographs from a Royal Caribbean teen center (below), I had heard and seen enough.  I responded with my article "Top Ten Reasons Not To Cruise." 

Here's reason no. 1:

Cruise Lines Are A Perfect Place To Sexually Abuse Children

The purpose of my article is not to convince anyone not to cruise, but to educate consumers regarding the dangers inherent in and the consequences of cruising.  It you want to cruise, that's your business not mine.  But at least educate yourself before you expose your family to danger. 

Sexual Abuse - Children - Cruise Ships - Sexual PredatorsSome Facts:

The cruise industry is big, rich, and growing.  It is a real juggernaut.  Cruises are cheap and considered to be "good deals."    

Close to fourteen million passengers will sail this year on cruise ships from companies based in the U.S.  The cruise industry claims that 95% of the passengers believe that cruising is a positive experience.  And I have no reason to dispute that figure.  But that leaves 5%, or around 700,000 people, with a negative experience.  Included in this group are parents whose children were raped or sexually molested on cruise ships.

Cruise lines are not legally obligated to report sexual assaults of children, or any crimes for that matter.  Currently pending before the U.S. Senate is the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, which will require - for the first time - that crimes be reported to the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard. When this law is enacted, cruise lines will also be required to reveal the crimes to the U.S. public via a link on their web pages.

But at the current time, the only sources of information are when courts order the cruise lines to reveal the crimes during lawsuits.  One good source of information is Dr. Ross Klein's CruiseJunkie.  Dr. Klein testified before our U.S. Congress several times and concluded that "Your Risk of Being Sexually Assaulted is Much Higher on a Cruise Ship Than in the Average American City."  Based on data we obtained in court cases, Dr. Klein concluded that at least 79 children were sexually assaulted or harassed on Royal Caribbean cruise ships alone from 1998 to 2005.

Our Experiences:   

The first case I handled involving sexual abuse of a minor on a cruise ship was in 1999.  A pedophile crew member gave a 14 year old boy a dozen glasses of champagne and took him back to his cabin.  He shaved the boy's pubic hair off and molested him when was was unconscious.  The cruise line responded by offering the family 50% of their cruise fare for their troubles.

Since then, we have handled over 70 cases involving sexual assault, with many children as victims.  We obtained, via a Court order, several secret internal studies by Royal Caribbean which concluded that sexual misconduct on cruise occurs "frequently."  At the same time, the cruise line's PR people were telling the American public that sexual assaults during cruises was "rare."  We also obtained spread sheets which revealed that there were 273 incidents of sexual Teen Activity Center - Sexual Assault - Sexual Abuse - Childrenmisconduct on the Royal Caribbean fleet for a period of three years, including rape and sexual abuse of minors.

A False Sense of Security

Parents believe that they can turn their children over to the "teen activity centers" or that the kids are safe alone in their cabins or walking the hallways and decks of the ship.  Parents are encouraged to let their guard down, grab a cocktail or two, and relax. 

The number one crime we see on cruise ships is when the parents stay out late at the disco or casino, and they leave their 12 year old son or 14 year old daughter alone in the cabin.  Many kids get tired after a fun day at the pool or after an excursion ashore, and they don't want to go to the second seating at dinner.  There are far too many cases where the cabin attendant will use their key card to access the cabin when the parents are away. 

Victim organizations, like International Cruise Victims (ICV), have proposed good recommendations to address this problem.  The ICV proposes deactivating the key cards of crew members after hours so they can't use them to get into the passenger cabins, using female cabin attendants rather than 25 year old males, or assigning supervisors to monitor the passenger cabins.  Most cruise lines have ignored these recommendations, and conduct business as usual.  Just last week we were contacted by the parents of a 16 year old sexually abused by a crew member who used a key card to get into the cabin when the parents were away.   

The other most likely scenario is when men or older teenagers target 13 and 14 year olds in the youth programs or confront them when they are trying to make their way back to their cabins.  To get an idea of how this happens, consider reading Passenger Indicted for Sexual Abuse of 13 Year Old Girl on Disney Wonder Cruise Ship.

No Background Checks, Too Much Alcohol and Too Little Security

Cruise lines do not perform background checks on their crew members.  They rely on the hiring agents around the world to (hopefully) do that for them.  But what kind of a pre-employment investigation can be done in Nicaragua, India, St. Vincent, or Belize?  There are no computer databases or depositories of information for criminals or sexual predators in countries like these.  The other problem is that cruise lines do not share their crime data.  When Royal Caribbean fires a sexual predator, he can find work on another cruise line, like Princess Cruises, within a few months.  We have seen it happen. 

Sexual Abuse - Children - Cruise Ships - Sexual PredatorsA major problem on cruise ships is alcohol.  Cruise lines earn literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze.  Older teenagers or young men can entice 15 and 16 year old girls to go back to their cabins and drink.  Parents who have zealously watched over their children for 15 years can find themselves with no clue where their kids may be during much of the cruise.  The Oasis of the Seas, for example, has several thousand cabins.  A lot can go wrong by behind these closed cabin doors.   

Compounding matters is that cruise ships have few security guards. Sometimes as few as two guards are on duty at night, and they do not actually patrol the passenger hallways.  Most cruise ships have hundreds of waiters, assistant waiters, bar tenders and bar servers who work on only $50 a month plus tips, and whose job it is to push alcohol sales.  But security guards?  Maybe 2 or 3 are on duty at any one time, and they are responsible for the safety of 2,000 - 3,000 guests? 

Cruise Ships Hide Information and Destroy Evidence

In the U.S., you can obtain a crime grid for every business and residential address in the U.S.  If you want to know whether the local child care facility or sleepover camp has had a crime in the past, just ask the local police to run a crime report and the information is there for the asking.  But cruise lines keep the crimes secret.  Trust us, they say.  We will take care of your kids.  Don't worry, have fun.

But when things goes wrong, the cruise line will treat your family like criminals. There is no independent security or police authorities aboard the ship. You are on the high seas - a no man's land - often thousands miles from the closet FBI office.  Cruise lines are notorious for covering crimes up.  They do not want the legal liability or public spectacle of a crew member being led off their cruise ships in handcuffs.  They will defend their employee and accuse little Susie of making things up.  That's why some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, have never had a single crew member convicted of sexual assault of a minor in the company's 40 year history.

And as long as no one gets convicted, sexual predators know that nothing will happen to them if they go on a cruise.  Its the perfect place to sexually abuse a child.   

We have written many articles about the problem with children being sexually assaulted during cruises:

Perverts, Child Predators and Cruise Ships 

Cruise Ship Passenger Sentenced in Child Porn Case

Another Crew Member Arrested for Child Pornography  

Why Cruises are NOT the Best Vacations with Kids 

Should Travel Agents Be Liable For Falsely Representing That Cruises Are Safe For Kids?

Tomorrow, we will discuss reason no. 2 not to cruise: Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Place to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It!

 

Do you agree, disagree, or have a comment to make?  Let us hear from you in the comments below.

 

Credits:

Teen center photograph        Royal Caribbean Cruises (via Cruise Critic)

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Comments (22) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Warren Affleck - April 12, 2010 11:08 AM

Quite frankly I'm disappointed that this article targets cruise lines. Certainly the same could be said of all inclusive resorts that have kids and teens programs. It most certainly could be said that sending our kids to sunday school at your local church is dangerous, all we have to do is look at the recent issues with the Catholic Church to verify that fact. It is the responsibility of parents, and all adults to ensure our children's safety. Let's not just target one industry for this issue, it is sad that abuse of children can happen anywhere, NOT just a cruise ship.

Jim Walker - April 12, 2010 11:50 AM

Warren:

Thanks for your comments. What responsibility do you believe travel agents and vacation specialists have to inform customers of the risks discussed in the article?

Jim Walker

Warren - April 12, 2010 12:54 PM

Jim,

Education here is the key. I encourage all my family clients to drop in unexpectedly to the youth programs on the ships. Educating the children to tell the parents if something happened is equally as important. Sadly this same practice must be followed when our children go to church these days as we've all read the events recently involving Priests and other figures in a position of authority over our children.

You state in your article that the number one contributor is when the parents stay out late at the disco or casino. Do you not think that the parent being on a cruise should still be responsible enough to realize that they have to watch over their children just like at home is important? You also state that the cruise lines keep crimes a secret. This statement can also be applied to an even larger organization, the Catholic Church

Initiatives to protect children, and adults, are needed most certainly. But let's not tunnel vision, apply these initiatives equally where there is risk and not target one industry

Jim Walker - April 13, 2010 7:21 AM

Warren:

All excellent points.

When I was a law clerk in the early 1980's, I distinctly recall an insurance client stating that the next wave of litigation would be against the Catholic Church because of an epidemic of child predators. At the time, I thought he was crazy. But he was right.

The last three decades have seen the Church's denials, attacks on the credibility of the victims, and only recently an acknowledgment that there is a problem. A lot of kids continued to be victimized in the process.

Yes, parents must supervise their children, but most don't understand the risks inherent in cruising. Cruise lines remain in denial. Not only do they not warn the passengers, but they represent that kids are safe and sound.

Few people take on the cruise industry. What's wrong with my little blog bringing attention to the issue?

Warren - April 13, 2010 11:12 AM

Jim:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing attention to the issue. In fact, I applaud anyone who champions the safety of our children.

My exchange with you was merely to state that the abuse of our children is a much wider problem than focusing on the cruise industry. For example, there are probably far more predators employed by the theme parks than the cruise lines. I would guess that the issue with the Catholic Church is only the tip of the iceburg.


We need stronger laws, AND stronger judges to levy the penalties against these offenders. You and I can discuss merits until the cows come home, but until the laws and the courts have some teeth, the situation really won't resolve itself. I am a former police officer and I can only voice my own frustration at doing my job and due diligence, only to see the courts care more about an offenders rights than those of the victim.

You and I are on the same side here Jim. We both want to see our children safe. Better screening of employees, not just cruise lines, but in all jobs requiring contact with kids, Stronger laws and a much stronger court system would go considerably farther in that protection.

Jim Walker - April 13, 2010 6:37 PM

Warren:

My hat's off to you and all current and former police officers who know the problem with crime first hand (and much better than me.) Our local police here in Miami, Sheriff's Office, and Miami Beach are great - they do a better job than FBI!

Thanks again for your thoughful comments.

Susan Parrott - June 27, 2010 3:36 PM

I am VERY grateful for articles such as this! We have cruised many times before and next month are cruising with our children for the first time. We usually do Disney World (flights not cruises), camping, mountains, other such family trips with them. This will make me VERY AWARE to keep my 11 year old daughter close to us at all times. It's, I guess a misconception that, because you are in a enclosed environment you have the false belief that your children are safe.Nothing could be further from the truth apparently. We consider ourselves good parents and our children good children but this just goes to add prudence to the old saying...."AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION HAS MORE WORTH THAN A POUND OF CURE", which on the high seas it sounds as tho there is none.

I thank you very much!!

racheal vanclease - July 21, 2010 7:04 PM

I want to thank you for you article. My husband, myself and our 11 year old daughter were thinking of taking the Disney Cruise.
After reading your article, we've changed our minds.

Todd Picayune - July 23, 2010 10:43 PM

There are over 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. I understand that felons on parole are generally not allowed to take cruises, but the majority of registered sex offenders are not on probation or parole, so technically they are free to go anywhere.

This means that there are probably dozens, even hundreds, of sex offenders at any given time on cruises. This alone is one statistic that would invalidate any permission I would give my family for taking a cruise.

Why isn't the industry taking a proactive stance to prevent registered sex offenders from partaking on a cruise, no matter if they are passengers or employees? There should be a centralized, federally-controlled passenger manifest system that would more easily prevent registered sex offenders from terrorizing our passengers. To me, that is the only thing that makes sense.

Chrissy - July 30, 2010 8:02 PM

I understand the concerns voiced here. But there are sex offenders everywhere. They go to your church, they live in your neighborhood, they even live near your schools. You should always keep frequent contact with your children when they are in the ship daycare and stop in just to check on them, but we cruise on Carnival and my daughter loves Camp and I feel she is very safe with the woman caring for her and I am not going to take that away from her. Although this article now has my husband willing to lock her up in a box to make sure nothing bad happens to her, I am not. I believe paying attention and being educated on the environment will help keep her safe.

rob - September 13, 2010 12:02 PM

You can also extend your life by not driving cars or not using stairs.

Freaks are everywhere.

Here's suggestion, leave the kids at home, you and THEY will both have a better time.

End of problem.

Chris - February 23, 2011 12:31 AM

As with anything, education is the key, make sure your children know:
They should never be alone with anyone, even if they work for the place you are at, there should always be a third person (or more) in the room.

If someone tries to get them to be alone with them they should run and tell the nearest adult. If they can not get away, then scream at the top of their lungs. The other indication on this is if you hear a child screaming, you need to intervene as well, at least find out what is going on.

They should always have a walkie talkie (or on Disney cruises a wave phone) with them to call you if there is a problem.

Shelly - May 26, 2011 11:21 PM

Today I was ordered by a judge to provide all necessary paperwork for a passport and concent forms to allow my ex to take our 10 year old on a Disney Cruise or any where else in the world my ex wants to take him.

I am in disbelief a Texas judge has the power to order my son, a resident of Oklahoma, to be taken out of the protection of the United States. My concerns about the safety of my child on a cruise ship would not even be heard.

Has anyone heard of this before? I can't believe this is happening and I have no power to protect my child and keep him in the country.

Adam - June 29, 2011 5:47 PM

Alright, maybe you all missed the title of this, but its the TOP TEN REASONS NOT TO CRUISE. Not the top ten reasons parents shouldnt gamble, or the top ten reasons we shouldnt trust the catholic church. If you want to hear more about that, find a different thread. This isnt going to address those because its a post about CRUISE SHIPS. And honestly, im glad SOMEBODY is posting safety issues on something usually thought so safe. All of you saying it should be a post about EVERYTHING dangerous are idiots, and you completely missed the point of the thread. Thank you for paying attention to the title.

john - December 15, 2011 7:04 PM

People think how small the percentage is though!!! Thousands of people are on a cruise boat at a time and they can go for 1 nigh to 7 night!!! Thousands if not MILLIONS are aboard cruise ships each year!!! This article is BOLONEY!!!!! Trust cruise critic not this person how doesn't know what hes talking about. There is literally no reason to fear a cruise.

anna - February 21, 2012 11:14 AM

As a youth counselor for a major cruise line under the RCCL umbrella, I can tell you how seriously we take the problem. We are not allowed to assist even the littlest children with personal needs (potty problems),never putting ourselves in a questionable position.

Two yrs ago, our policy changed, mainly to protect our staff from spurious charges. We must always remain in view of security cameras and when out of the youth facility, staffing of two by two. This can be a real staffing nightmare when we are in port, lunching in the lido with four kids and one needs to use the restroom.

Our company was charged with indiscretion once that I am aware of, and security cameras showed the staff member was nowhere near the child. The parent wanted money. The staff member, a teacher back home, was cleared, but fired.

We in the youth dept are always amazed at how carelessly some parents treat their young children's comfort or safety, leaving them with us from 9am to 1am (really), or worse, leaving them alone in the cabin while they hit the bars and casino. I would worry more about the child wandering out of their stateroom in search of the parent. Some family vacation. We wonder why they bring the kids.

I'm sure there are problems, sick people, predators out there who manage to escape detection. (not just priests, one in my hometown LDS church is still with the kids though his daughter has notified everyone she can think of). I'm glad the issue is being examined and discussed. No operation that deals with children is above scrutiny and constant watchfulness.

Birdy - March 20, 2012 7:42 PM

Well I have cruised about seven times and my two children five times. I have seen teenage girls(I have one) run around and sneaking a sip of the ships specials.Once I had a lady help me take a girl about 20years old to her cabin. She was so drunk and a couple of guys were trying to take her to their room. She was so wasted, she had no clue about what was going on.The guys were getting loud and very upset. I got into ones face and told him "today is not the day your mother wants to wear black walking slow behind your casket and he walked away. I put my heels back on and went and got the ships doctor(a very nice lady) to sit with her, dont know if they charged her for it. A normal person seeing a person in a daze your going to ask if she is ok? Right but we never saw a ships security or a police.I am always tell my kids to stay together with thier friends and they have a bed time. I know its vacation but we still have rules. Now if the child is 12 and up they can check themselves in and out of the camps with out a parent unless you let the staff know you dont want them too.We check in with each other every hour and text to see where and what they are doing. Keeping them in pairs can keep them safe just my personal opinion.At night I dont let them run around like I have seen some kids do till 2am. Yes I am at the pool side or hanging with friends but mine are 12 and 17 when I walk them to the room for the night, they are together and we use room service before I leave and they lock the door. Yea when I get in they are still up. Its all about the buddy system i think.

Bonnie - April 24, 2012 1:32 PM

I was wondering how safe my child would be if we took a cruise. I'm glad I searched the internet to see if there were any sites mentioning predators on cruises. It'll make me keep more tabs like I do at home on the cruise ship and warn my child before we go on the cruise of potential dangers and how to handle them.
Thank you

Denise - September 2, 2012 8:47 PM

I find myself shocked and horrified by the apparent false sense of security and complacency that far too many parents display regarding, the safety of their children. On both Disney and RCL cruises, I have witnessed children as young as 5 wandering the ship alone. Children as young as 8 have been reported ( by their proud parents) as checking themselves out of the kids club at closing (midnight), and returning to their cabin alone, well after the parents had turned in for the night! NO child or adolescent should ever wander alone on a ship. Without a deadbolt on a cabin door, the cabin is too vulnerable a place, as well. Telling children to run and/or scream if approached is necessary but not sufficient, and places too much responsibility on them. So does relying on "buddy systems." Sexual predators are highly skilled at disarming the self-preservation instincts of (and lessons taught to) children, and separating children and adolescents. I have read "but it's DISNEY!" as if DCL remains immune to sexual predators! These same parents comment "but my child KNOWS BETTER." No, your child does not know better, nor *should* s/he - as such 'logic' stipulates sexual knowledge - from which child need to remain innocent. Many parents falsely assume that they will "know" if their child has been harmed. Most likely not, and most likely, only if it was a first-degree rape (so you would notice, perhaps, the blood from the vaginal or anal lacerations). Nothing substitutes for (age-appropriate) parental supervision and frequent communication. Do you permit your 8 or 13 year old to return home after midnight, after you have gone to bed? Why would you do so on a cruise ship? Why invite tragedy into your lives? I just don't get it. Oh, by the way, I am the person that folks turn to, after such tragedy. My job is to help the child (if we are fortunate enough to discover the assault) heal from -- but we can never, never cure -- such sexual trauma. If the parent never discovers the assault, then I may see the child later in his/her life, as an adult. I really, really pray for the day that such services (e.g., evidenced based treatments for child abuse) would no longer be needed.

antonymous - June 14, 2013 8:16 PM

I don't like being around my parents because they are overprotective but after reading this article, I have
changed my mind I am using the wave phone on the Disney cruise

Ginger - August 11, 2013 3:56 PM

My husband and I just got from cruising on Carnival. I agree with your article although I put the fault at the parents too. No child or teenager should be assaulted or rape that is aweful! On the other hand it's aweful too to see how many kids left to them selves from the time they get on the ship to the time they get off. Example. the first night we were on the cruise leaving Cape Carnival, it's storming outside and lightening. There are kids in the pool outside. No parents around getting there kids out. It's amazing to see kids around around and they are small. I think that they think because everybody made it through security we are safe, the only thing that makes everyone is not terrorist.

Ron - October 21, 2013 11:34 AM

Jim
I am a register sex offender. I am not one the violent or aggravated registration levels. I love to cruise. My wife and I have been on 10 and are planning more since we are retired. What is your opinion on Offenders taking cruises.

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