On October 10, 2010, off the coast of Israel, a 40-year-old South African woman working on a Celebrity cruise ship blacked out while having a drink with a male co-worker in his cabin. She awoke hours later to find the man, a Costa Rican, raping her.
The sexual assault at sea was only the beginning of the woman's nightmare. After reporting the crime, she was confined to her cabin for days, denied medical care, and then dumped back in South Africa with no hope of justice, according to a lawsuit filed this past August 31 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Her case is only one piece in a pattern of cruise lines hushing up crimes against their foreign-born workers, says the woman's lawyer, Jim Walker. "They brush off these horrible assaults as if it's a passenger who lost luggage."
Neither a spokeswoman for Miami-based Royal Caribbean, which owns Celebrity Cruises, nor the company's attorney, Danielle Rubin, returned calls and emails seeking comment about Walker's suit.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In July 2010, after congressional testimony indicated that dozens of rapes occur on cruises annually, President Obama signed legislation requiring the ships to report crimes at sea against U.S. citizens to the FBI. But the law says nothing about crimes against foreigners.
The South African worker — who goes by Jane Doe in her suit — learned that firsthand, Walker says. She was selling perfume on the boat when she was raped.
The FBI couldn't investigate because of her nationality, and no foreign police followed up. The onboard medical staff also failed to treat her injuries and had no anti-retro viral drugs onboard to prevent a potential HIV infection. And when the woman returned to South Africa and was too distraught to work, the company refused to help pay her medical bills or for therapy, Walker says.
"There was no prosecution of the crime, and this woman was not provided the counseling or medication she needed after the attack," Walker says. "These companies are simply too concerned with their image to prosecute staff who commit these crimes."