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.
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.
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 misconduct 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.
A 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.
Teen center photograph Royal Caribbean Cruises (via Cruise Critic)