Will New Law Protect Against Sexual Assault on Cruise Ships?

Congress recently passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which requires safety measures on cruise ships including installing peep-holes on cabin doors. Will the law protect against sexual assault on ships?

USA Today put that question to Scott Berkowitz, founder of RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), which was among groups that lobbied for the changes. And Berkowitz tells the newspaper that yes, the new measure should at least lower risk of sexual assault on ships.

He says sexual assault is "the crime most often reported by Americans on cruises," and that victims include both passengers and crew. While he says travelers are no more at risk on a ship than at a land-based resort, he adds that up to now those at resorts have had easier access to police and medical care.

The legislation, which is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature, enforces security measures (including peep-holes), provides shipboard medical care for victims of sexual assault including medication to avoid the transmission of sexual diseases, and makes sure medical staff knows how to collect forensic evidence, Berkowitz tells USA Today.

The law also requires cruise lines report crimes to the FBI. "So, for the first time, we'll have reliable data and, we hope, more cases can be prosecuted," he says.

In addition, the law provides specific help to victims of sexual assault. "Ships will have to give victims 'free and immediate access' to the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) and Online Hotline (online.rainn.org), which are the primary resources in this country for victims of sexual assault," Berkowitz says.

He adds that these "common-sense safety features will help prevent crimes" but that a single piece of legislation "isn't going to abolish rape, on cruise ships or on land." He advises travelers to stay on guard, even on vacation.

Berkowitz tells the paper among issues he would like to see addressed in the future is legal jurisdiction for when ships are in another country or international waters.

Photo, Mel B, flickr
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