The #MeToo movement is making waves on the high seas.
At a time when more women and men feel empowered to speak openly about sexual assault, passengers aboard cruise ships are calling out bad behavior more frequently, too, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Commercial cruise lines reported 76 incidents of alleged sexual assault to the FBI last year, a 23% increase over the year before and further proof that sexual violence remains the most commonly reported serious crime at sea.
New Reporting Rules, And New Data
The statistics provide the first window into sexual-assault trends on cruise ships since the government imposed stricter reporting criteria for alleged criminal activity aboard vessels. The new reporting rules, which require the disclosure of the incidents regardless of the FBI’s investigatory status, went into effect in 2016, meaning we now have two years of fuller data.
Previously, alleged crimes were disclosed to the public only after the FBI had finished investigating incidents, but those statistics were thought to vastly undercount the number of reports. The lack of data was especially troubling in regards to sexual violence, which already tends to be underreported.
A review of the quarterly reports posted on the DOT’s website shows a year-to-year increase in alleged sexual assaults, particularly those reportedly committed by passengers, which jumped 21% in 2017 from the year prior. The reports only contain a numerical count and do not include details about the alleged incidents or whether the accusations led to charges.
Safer By Sea?
Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, said it has not had time to review the latest data but plans to do so soon. The group maintains that people are significantly safer at sea than they are on land, where rates of violent crime are far higher. In response to an inquiry from Fast Company, CLIA cited a recent report from Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, who determined that commercial cruise lines do an “exceptional job” of keeping passengers safe.
“[C]ruise lines have every incentive to ensure that any allegation of serious crime is properly reported and that the alleged victim receives all the care and assistance he or she needs,” Catharine Montgomery, a CLIA spokesperson, stated by email. She added that, in addition to being legally mandated to report violent crime, cruise-line companies must comply with the CLIA’s own reporting policies as a condition of their membership in the organization.
Still, the data shows all three major commercial cruise-line companies saw increases in 2017. Carnival Cruise Line, the industry’s largest, saw 35 reports of alleged sexual assault, compared to 28 the previous year.
Roger Frizzell, a Carnival spokesperson, chalked the increase up to more passengers, saying the company added “thousands of more cruisers” in the past year. “At Carnival, guest safety is our top priority, and any issue is one too many,” Frizzell said. “We continue to do everything possible to ensure guest safety on every single cruise.”
Royal Caribbean International saw 17 reported incidents, compared to 15 the year before, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s incidents increased to 15 from 11.
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said safety is the company’s top priority. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of our guests and crew. Even one accusation of sexual assault onboard our ships is one too many,” he said, echoing his counterpart at Carnival. “Though incidents are infrequent, we work with RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] to train and certify our security personnel and Care Team associates to offer appropriate assistance, including medical care and counseling. Once an incident is brought to our attention we immediately report it to law enforcement authorities.”
A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines also stressed safety and said the company is aligned with CLIA’s views on the issue.
While sexual-assault reports are rare on cruise ships, last year’s increase outpaced the CILA’s global passenger growth projections, which were only expected to rise 4.5% to 27.8 million in 2017. The FBI’s statistics only apply to ships that embark and disembark in the United States.
Whatever’s driving the trend, the data will hopefully continue to spark new conversations about the importance of reporting sexual assault, which remains too common a problem at sea, on land, at at all stops in between.