Cruising for Trouble
Updated Sat. Nov. 17 2007 7:04 PM ET
CRUISE WEB SCRIPT - 14/11
The $20-billion a year North American cruise industry sells fun, excitement and the chance to visit exotic destinations. Each year, some 12 million people -- half a million Canadians--buy into that dream. They set sail for the high seas believing they and their families will be safe.
But that wasn't what Marilyn and Jamie Decker, of Monterey, California, experienced. Eight years ago, when Jamie was just 12, her parents took her on a Caribbean cruise. But that safe family vacation, turned out to be anything but. On the fifth day of the cruise, the Deckers' lives were turned upside down.
A crewman told Jamie that he would take her to watch dolphins at the bow of the ship. He led her to a restricted area and then barred the door so she couldn't leave, ripped her dress and raped her. And on his way out he threatened to kill her family if she told anyone. As he seemed to know rather a lot about her family, Jamie took him at his word and downplayed the incident. She held onto her secret for years, spiraling out of control. When the truth was finally revealed, the Deckers called the FBI, who investigated, and said there was nothing they could do except pursue the case civilly.
And this is where the Deckers believe they were victimized a second time -- this time by the Carnival Cruise Lines. Negotiations began and the final offer was delivered with a threat. Says Marilyn Decker, "...our attorney told us that the opposing attorney had told him that if we didn't take this last offer that they would send a team of attorneys to the little town we were living in California...They would get a yearbook. They would start interviewing every student in the yearbook to try to dig up any dirt on her or on us as a family." Unwilling to subject their daughter to any more, the Deckers took the offer.
One of the leading critics of the cruise ship industry, lawyer Jim Walker is not surprised by the Decker story. Walker says the industry has a problem they are covering up by not admitting that sexual assaults occur on ships.
In 2006, the industry was ordered by the United States Congress to reveal numbers of sexual assaults that occurred over a three-year period. The numbers came in and Walker didn't believe them. He successfully got a court to order one cruise line to tell him exactly how many sexual incidents happen on board their ships. And the number he got was much more than what they originally reported to Congress and in fact showed that the chances of being sexually assaulted on a cruise ship were about 50 per cent higher than on land. .
One of the reasons the problem exists, according to Randall Jaques, an ex-Miami cop who worked for years for several cruise lines as a security officer, is that crew are on-board the ship for six months at a time and often work 60 hours a week. They are isolated from wives and girlfriends. That creates an atmosphere charged with sexual tension.
And the cruise lines are aware of this problem. Confidential reports, leaked to W-FIVE, were commissioned in 1999 by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Experts conducted studies on the problem of crew sexually assaulting passengers. One report concluded: "Improper activity occurs frequently aboard ships, but goes unreported and/or unpunished."
The second report also found: "...crew members generally understand that if they commit an offense and are caught they are most likely going to lose their job and be returned home, but not spend time in jail."
Jaques also says sometimes the situation can become even more predatory. "There is an active organized stalking if you want to call it that or targeting as I call it of females that come aboard cruise ships. It's start from the first day and it doesn't stop until the voyage is ended at the end of the week."
So if, as a Canadian, you are sexually assaulted while on the high seas, what should you do? W-FIVE went to various branches of the government to ask how they provide assistance. We asked the RCMP who said they had no jurisdiction and that you should report the incident to the local authorities at the next port of call. Department of Justice said it's not their responsibility and the Department of Foreign Affairs referred us to their web site, which reminds victims to call the police, record all details and preserve evidence of the attack.
While a Royal Caribbean representative told W-FIVE that law enforcement agencies at the next port of call have jurisdiction in the event of a crime involving a Canadian victim, former security guard Randall Jaques says the idea of local police being involved is ridiculous. He says, "You can invite them all you want but I can tell you right now they probably won't respond."
Chances are most people will go on a cruise ship and have an ordinary vacation. The problem is, if something does go wrong, experts say you're on your own.