Last night, a member of the one of the leading online cruise communities - CruiseCritic - contacted me about a cruise line passenger who had been harassed and battered by a cabin attendant in her cabin. This was far from a rape, but it certainly sounds like something other than a "cultural misunderstanding."
Some of the CruiseCritic members supported the passenger and made some generally okay suggestions like call the cruise line and tell them what happened. But it was obvious that everyone online was basically just shooting in the dark. Unfortunately, some of the members mocked her story.
Now a little background information may be in order.
No Pre-Employment Screening and the Cruise Lines Sweep Bad Conduct Under the Rug
I have represented over 60 women and children raped or sexually molested on cruise ships over the past ten years. I have also represented six women who have appeared before Congress during hearings on crimes and unsafe conditions on cruise ships. I am not talking about "harassment" but conduct which is criminal in nature and should land the perpetrator in jail for a long time. When we sue the cruise line and obtain the cruise line perpetrator's employment files and conduct an investigation, we often find that there is virtually no pre-employment investigation before hiring crew members. Plus, we discover that after joining the cruise line, some of the crew members engage in what the cruise lines characterize as "minor" problems such as sexual comments or "inappropriate touching" by the crew member. These early warning signs are sometimes ignored or swept under the rug.
Profile of the Who, When and Where a Cruise Line Predator Strikes
In our experience, the crew member most likely to harass or assault a passenger is a male cabin attendant in his late 20's or early 30's. And the cruise line where you are most likely to be harassed or assaulted? Without question, in our experience, Royal Caribbean. By far. And the most likely time to be "hit upon?" The last night of the cruise.
So it was disturbing to hear that that the incident involving the CruiseCritic passenger involved - you guessed it - a cabin attendant on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on the last night of the cruise. Here is a portion of the passenger's account posted on CruiseCritic:
The Passenger's Account - Still Coming to Grips with What Happened
"My room steward came up behind my chair on our balcony and proceeded to put his hands on my shoulders, that's ok but when he ran them down the front of me, well that was not ok. I tried to not let it upset me, but I am still really bothered by this. We were 2 women traveling alone. I am in my late forties and very comfortable traveling solo. Unfortunately this really made me start to think, How safe is it really? I didn't want to make a complaint because it was our last night on the cruise . . . I know i will probably get the people telling me to get over it and that it is no big deal, and that is how I tried to look at it, But how safe is it for other women traveling alone with that steward . . .
He was a big man and i was a little unnerved by his size. I just stopped his hands and didn't say anything. I know I am stupid for not reporting right away, but i just wasn't sure what to do. I had another incident occur on a Royal ship years ago with my then 11 year old son, where a fellow passenger hauled off and cold cocked him while he was at the kids club. The security really didn't do much about it, told his parents and told them to stay close to their son for the trip, but he was still allowed in the kids club and left unsupervised on the ship. Needless to say my son had a black eye throughout our vacation and the fact that security just didn't make sure that this other kid was allowed where my son was, was even more upsetting. Maybe that is why I didn't report him at the time for fear of security not really doing much . . ."
This Is a Crime on Miami Beach - But Business As Usual on Cruise Ships
If this happened in a club at South Beach, the bouncers would haul Mr. "Happy-Hands" outside and he would find himself face down on the sidewalk only to be hand-cuffed and hauled off in a squad car and end up being finger printed at the cop shop on Washington Avenue. But on a cruise ship, its another matter. You are in the middle of the ocean with no police within a thousand miles. A crew member is between you and your cabin door. The balcony is behind you. Women have disappeared on cruise ships.
In September 2007, one of our clients was featured in a Congressional hearing. Her Royal Caribbean cabin attendant was very attentive, too attentive. This led to increasing aggressive behavior of "inappropriate talk" - to casual touching - to offers of champagne - to using his key card to enter her cabin at night while she slept in her bed - to raping her.
Royal Caribbean Knows They Have a Problem . . .
In another one of our court cases, we obtained an excel spreadsheet from Royal Caribbean (only after the Court threatened Royal Caribbean with a fine of $1,000 a day if it did not comply) listing the number of incidents of sexual assault and harassment on its cruise ships for a period a little longer than two and one-half years. I know the data was incomplete, but it indicated that over 250 women were sexually harassed, assaulted or battered. This reflects a real problem throughout the Royal Caribbean fleet. A large number of the incidents occurred in the passenger cabins.
. . . But Royal Caribbean Keeps the Passengers in the Dark
It is therefore additionally disturbing at this late date to think that a woman on a Royal Caribbean ship could be sexually harassed and battered (yes - a non-consensual, offensive touching is a criminal offense!) and yet the cruise line would have no published protocols to explain to the guest what to do and she would have to resort to a public plea for assistance. It is equally discouraging that a large and well established cruise community like, CruiseCritic, would not have an online resource for its members to refer to to understand what steps they should take.
Recently, a bill was introduced before Congress (HR 3360) which will require cruise lines to provide contact information for assault crisis centers. But the Senate has not voted on the bill yet. As matters now stand, cruise lines continue to keep the passengers in the dark regarding what to so or who to contact in circumstances like this.
A Few Suggestions
So here are some suggestions when you are sexually harassed or, as some people understate, "inappropriately touched" on a Royal Caribbean cruise:
Head directly to the Purser's Desk. Request to see the Security Officer, the Head Purser, the Staff Captain, and the Hotel Director. Ask for their names and write them down. Give your name, cabin number, name of the crew member if known, and a short statement of what happened. Request that the cabin attendant be removed from his responsibility for your cabin. Demand that the cabin attendant's key card be taken away from him. Before you return the statement, ask for a copy. Request the full name and employee number of the crew member. Ask for the email and telephone of the head of security for Royal Caribbean in its corporate headquarters and one of cruise line's in-house lawyers in Miami. Ask for a telephone number or email to contact these individuals in Miami before you leave the cruise ship.
Who to Contact After You Leave the Cruise Ship
If you leave the ship without making a complaint (about 40% of women are too upset, traumatized, or disoriented to report the incident on the cruise ship so don't beat yourself up) don't waste your time calling the cruise line. You will be directed to a low level representative in the customer care department - the same people who take calls regarding lost luggage, or handle silly complaints about bad food or poor service. You will be ignored or they will eventually call you back and offer you a 25% discount on your next cruise. You will feel worse after dealing with these knuckleheads. You need to document what happened and demand that action be taken by the top security and executive leaders.
Empower yourself! Take control of the situation.
Send a letter to the President (Adam Goldstein) and CEO (Richard Fain) of Royal Caribbean at 1050 South Caribbean Way, Miami FL and send an email copy to the head of Royal Caribbean's security department Gary Bald (GBald@rccl.com) and one of the top lawyers at Royal Caribbean such as Tony Faso (TFaso@rccl.com). Don't let them interrogate you without a lawyer being present. Ask them to notify law enforcement and provide you with the telephone number and address of the FBI. Look up the FBI office closest to you and call and write them a letter.
Keep your letter or email to the executives and the lawyer short and to the point. And make certain that you write: "Submitted without prejudice. Not to be used against me in a civil or criminal proceeding."
Follow up in writing and by email. Don't let it drop until you are satisfied.
Royal Caribbean claims that it has a "zero tolerance" program against sexual harassment. The crew members are instructed never to touch a passenger. This particular crew member and his wandering hands should be terminated. Otherwise, he will become emboldened and his conduct will become more aggressive.
Think of the Next Passenger Who Will Climb Aboard the Same Cruise Ship and Meet Your Cabin Attendant
Remember - the male cabin attendant who sexually harasses you and touches you "inappropriately" is the one most likely to use his pass key and enter a woman's cabin at night.
Think of the next passenger who may be traveling alone on the next Royal Caribbean cruise or the child left alone in her parent's cabin when this cabin attendant enters under the guise of cleaning the cabin or making the bed.
If the incident involves a rape, then call the Purser's desk and ask for the Security Officer to come immediately to your cabin. Ask for medical treatment and request the Security Officer to lock and seal your cabin. Ask for a telephone number for the FBI and a national rape crisis center such as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).