This week, I noticed that #metoo and #whyididntreportit were trending on Twitter, as a result of the controversy surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s Senate hearing.

Professor Ford and other women are coming forward to the Senate hearing today to allege that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them and/or condoned sexual misconduct at parties while they were in high school or college.  The victims deserve to have their experiences considered and not denied simply because they occurred decades ago when they were teenagers.

I noticed that several #metoo and #whyididntreportit tweets involved women (and at least one man) who stated that they were sexually abused on cruise ships, either as a passenger or as a crew member. All these individuals were publicly disclosing the incidents for the first time in their lives. All the incidents occurred many years ago, with some of the sexual assaults occurring as long as three to four decades ago.

“Jane Doe” – Crew Member Aboard the SS Universe – “Afraid I Would Be Thrown Overboard at Night”

One woman, now 50 years old, who wishes to be identified only by her first name, Jazmin, tweeted that a cruise ship officer sexually assaulted her in 1989:

She revealed to me that she worked as a cosmetologist on the SS Universe (photo above, taken in August 1989), which was operated at the time by World Explorer Cruises to ports in Alaska.

“I was out late with my friends and returned to my cabin around midnight. There was a note under my door to go to the bridge because I had an emergency phone call.  This was quite alarming because back then, no one received phone calls at sea unless it was serious. I raced up to the bridge and was greeted by a man who I recognized as someone close to the captain. I don’t know what his exact position was but he wore a uniform and was some type of officer. He was probably around 10 years older than me, maybe 33.  Frantic, I handed him the note, and started asking lots of questions. He was quiet and led me back into a cabin and closed the door. Naively I still wasn’t aware of what was going on. I continued to press for answers and was now in tears, fearing that a family member as in trouble. At that point he put his arms on my shoulders and started to force himself onto me.  I resisted him. He chased me around the room and kept trying to pin me down.  I threw objects in his direction and he stumbled, and I escaped the cabin.

After the incident occurred, I ran to my friend’s cabin, told him what happened and asked what I should do.  Many times, we had witnessed the crew throwing garbage and large machinery (washing machines etc.) overboard into the ocean in the middle of the night.  He warned me that they could easily do that to me.  I felt like I needed to tell someone, my boss or at least the cruise director but after talking with my friend, I was scared into silence.  I feared for my life and always watched my back on the ship.”

Jazmin explained that she initially felt guilty about what happened.  “I remember thinking what did I do to provoke this?  Did I stare at his uniform emblems too long when he was on stage? Was my outfit not conservative enough?

She chose to disclose the assault now because she feels empowered by her family and wants to set an example for he daughter. “I think it is important to talk about it now … I have two children. Now that my daughter is a teenager, I think it’s important that she be aware and not be fearful. I encourage her to share everything with me.”

Ruth Anne Phillips – 10 Year Old Guest – HAL’s Rotterdam – “I Speak Up Now For My Ten Year Old Self”

Another woman broke her 45-year silence when she recently tweeted:

Ms. Phillips explained her ordeal to me in detail:

“I was ten years old in 1974 . . . it was very important to my parents that we experience the world and other cultures and after scrimping and saving, they took us on a year-long trip and cultural adventure to Europe. It was a very exciting time for me and my four brothers. We ranged in age 4 through 15. (photo of family below).

The first part of our trip we took a train to New York from Los Angeles. My parents were able to get a really good price for a transatlantic cruise on the Rotterdam (operated by Holland American Line from 1959 to 1997). To be able to do this was a once in a lifetime experience and my parents were so excited and their enthusiasm was contagious.

The Rotterdam was huge but there were not a lot of activities for children other than the pool. My brothers and I took off and basically had the run of the ship. I remember that most of the crew were not Americans and my parents told us that they were from a ‘faraway island’ . . .  they were drawn to me and two of my brothers who also had blond hair. They would touch us on the head all of the time – so much so, it was disconcerting. My parents told us that they were not used to seeing people with blond hair and that to touch it was considered good luck. I do not know if that was true or not, but we accepted it as fact.

Toward the middle of the cruise I was exploring by myself. I did that a lot. My brothers didn’t like hanging out with their sister – so that was not unusual. Parents back then were very lenient, and we always ran free – even at home, when we were told to be back when the streetlights came on. On the ship, we were told to be back for dinner. One day, I got lost and I was wandering the halls looking for our cabin or someplace I would recognize, and I was getting distressed when I was approached by one of the crew.

Looking back, I would say he was probably in his thirties. He asked me if he could help me and I told him I was lost. He said that he knew where my cabin was, and he would take me there. Instead he took me into a small office and molested me. He groped me and put my hand on his penis. He kissed me and put his tongue in my mouth. I became a limp doll. I did not fight our scream or do anything. I was sitting on his lap while he did this to me. After he removed himself from my body, he said, ‘thank you.’

It was grotesque that he thanked me after what he had done; like I had somehow given him permission. I got off his lap and went to the door, opened it and ran out. He did not try to stop me.

Remarkably, I found our cabin and I remember hiding under the covers on the bed and I shook uncontrollably. I was dry heaving. One of my brothers found me and told me it was dinner time. I told him I wasn’t going. My mother came in and asked me what was wrong, and I tried to tell her, but it was impossible. I did not have the words to say what had happened, but I told her that I had been kissed by one of the crew members. She left and when she came back, she said that she had spoken to my father and they thought it had to do with my blond hair and the culture of the crew member. They said I was confused and that a kiss wasn’t a big deal.  They made me get dressed to go to dinner.

We were served duck with grape sauce on it. Funny what you remember and what you don’t. When we got back to the room, I vomited all night. To this day, I have a visceral reaction if someone is serving or eating duck.

My parents and I never spoke of what happened ever again. I never pursued it and it seemed that if I did, I would have ruined everyone’s trip. I would have been responsible for destroying our grand adventure. I like to think that my parents were simply naïve but, sometimes, I think that they didn’t want the adventure ruined either and that they wanted what happened to just go away.”

The childhood assault on the cruise ship seems to have had a long term effect on Ms. Phillips, who described being sexually assaulted as a 7th grader during her junior high school in California, being drugged and raped in college, and being a victim of sexual harassment and assault when she began working as a firefighter at age 48.

She is now 54 years-old and is married with five children. She explained that she struggled with unresolved anger and self-loathing most of her life. “I was weak and vulnerable. I know most people do not think of me that way. But I do. I think that what happened to me at ten affected me for the rest of my life. Inside, I think that my parents didn’t fight for me and I didn’t know how to fight for myself. I lived my life thinking that I was worthless.”

“I have struggled with hurt, anger and rage, and I attempted suicide in the past. That is why I speak up now. I have been part of a whole culture of complicity. My parents were scared, and I was scared too. I was scared my whole life. I am not scared anymore. When we speak up, we are attacked and vilified. We are called liars. My soul was stolen from me and the silence simply made it worse. I speak up now for my ten-year-old self, my twelve-year-old self, my nineteen-year-old self and my fifty year old self. “

My Perspective on Sexual Assaults on Cruise Ships

We have represented over 100 women and/or children sexually assaulted on cruise ships over the last 15 years. Approximately one-third of these crimes involved children, which is consistent with Congressional testimony from experts.  Of course, children rarely immediately report being a victim of sexual abuse while on the ship. Many children suppress violent, sexual memories for a lifetime. If they are going to disclose the sexual abuse, children usually first disclose the sexual abuse only once they return home and/or after their parents or caretakers observe the child demonstrating a change in behavior after the cruise.

Many women also report the sexual assault only after the cruise.  The crime typically occurs on the last night of the cruise and many victims simply want to get off the ship and as far as possible away from the location of the scene of the assault. A shipboard safety officer investigating a report by a guest that she was raped by a crew member represents an inherent conflict of interest.

One of our clients was drugged and raped on the last evening of the cruise and returned home in a state of anxiety and confusion. She first contacted us several weeks later after she became frustrated when there was no response to her complaints to the local police or the cruise line, and after the FBI investigation went nowhere, like most FBI investigations do. The cruise line bartender, who drugged and raped her, and was fired, subsequently applied for work on another line (Princess Cruises) and was accepted for employment.

As part of her self-empowerment, she was interviewed by Time magazine and she later testified before Congress regarding her ordeal.

In our experience, the majority of women who contact our office are not seeking to file a lawsuit for compensation but are frustrated by the “denial, shame and blame” culture that permeates our law enforcement and criminal law system.  (None of the victims mentioned in this article-initiated contact with this firm nor have they even asked if there is a basis for compensation).

Of the 100 or so sexual assault cases involving passengers we have handled, only in four instances (all involving minors) have the crew members served jail time.  The vast majority of crimes are not prosecuted, and many are not even investigated by law enforcement. No cases involving a crew member victim have resulted in jail time for the crew member assailant.

We have attended Congressional hearings where the FBI has acknowledged that less than 7% of sexual assaults result in prosecution and convictions. The low percentages of cases which are reported and/or result in convictions mirror statistics regarding land-based crimes. Plus, there are problems unique to cruise ships, such as jurisdictional issues, the loss or destruction of evidence at sea, delayed investigations by law enforcement, and the absence of police on the increasingly huge “cities at sea.”

The #metoo movement may be resulting in a trend toward more frequent reporting of sexual assault.  The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) cruise crime portal shows that reports of sexual assaults on cruise ships have increased in the last year by over 20%.  Sexual crimes on cruise ship have historically been substantially under-reported and vastly under-counted even when they are reported according to Congressional reports.

Its a good thing that women are now increasingly empowered to reveal what happened to them in the past.

Have a comment? Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Bottom – Family photo (family blurred) aboard the Rotterdam – Ruth Anne Phillips; Middle – SS Rotterdam – John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain, commons / wikimedia; Universe – and Jazmin aboard Universe cruise ship – top and middle – Jasmin.

  • Take your time and go through this article please! Truth has been spoken finally. It is still a concerning matter for women.