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As the “#MeToo” movement continues to gain momentum throughout the United States, cruise ship passengers are feeling empowered to do the same as reports of sexual assaults increase on some of the world’s most popular cruise lines. In fact, there have been 76 incidents of sexual assaults reported on commercial cruise lines in 2017, a 23 percent increase over the previous year, according to FBI statistics.

The increase in reported crimes can be partly attributed to stricter reporting criteria the government imposed in 2016 regarding any alleged criminal activity on board cruise vessels, which has resulted in more extensive data being reported. Prior to the new law, any alleged crimes were only reported to the public after the FBI had completed investigating the incidents. Many times, these incidents were never counted or reported, which is concerning since sexual assaults are traditionally already underreported.

One issue has been the security personnel on the vessel. These individuals are typically not law enforcement officials but rather privately-hired trained security officers. The training includes ensuring that certain areas of the ship are sealed, and evidence protected once a sexual assault is reported. However, the security personnel are not responsible for conducting a formal law enforcement investigation. This distinction can make a huge difference in how the actual investigation is handled and how the results of the investigation are reported.

If an attack happens to an American national, or if the person who committed the attack is an American national, the FBI has jurisdiction over the investigation. If not, it can be more complicated in determining who has jurisdiction, and information such as the location of the ship, who owns the vessel and where the ship embarked can determine which country has jurisdiction.

If the assault occurs while outside the U.S., the victim can contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. However, if the assault occurred on the actual ship while the boat is at sea, the report needs to be made to the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard. A report to the Department of Transportation is also recommended, as the Department keeps past cruise line incidents reported online. Of course, the crime should be reported immediately to the cruise ship security personnel. It is also recommended that any names and contact information of possible witnesses, as well as cruise ship personnel who were communicated with during the investigation, are documented as well.

If someone is the victim of a sexual assault or attack, it is important that he or she seek immediate medical attention. If the attack occurred while at sea, the victim can receive care from the ship’s medical personnel, but if the attack happens at a port, the nearest emergency room is recommended. Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 (CVSSA) to address safety issues on cruise ships, including crimes involving sexual violence. It was the intent of the Act to ensure that cruise ship passengers had the resources needed to receive a proper medical exam after a sexual assault has occurred.

It is important that passengers be aware of their rights before boarding a vessel. These rights include the right to a security guide, as well as a written summary that tells passengers where to go if a crime occurs. This guide must also include details of criminal law procedures for crimes that occur while onboard the ship. The guide also must include a list of all U.S. embassy and consulate locations in the foreign countries where the ship will be stopping throughout the cruise.  Any passenger who has been attacked has the right to a sexual assault forensic exam while on board, which means the ship needs to have all of the proper equipment and materials for performing this exam. Further, the passenger has the right to complete and total confidentiality if he or she requests and receives services after reporting an attack.

Choosing a cruise is an important decision, but most travelers look at price, itinerary and features on their ships. However, it is just as important to take few minutes and look at the CDC website and view recent cruise line incident reports on Transportation.gov, to see how well your cruise line and ship performed in its overall inspection along with any reports of criminal activity and misconduct, which have occurred onboard.  This way you can make the most informed decision about your vacation and keep yourself and your loved ones safe.