June 26, 2008 – (Washington, DC) – Today Congress took an important step in ensuring the safety of Americans aboard cruise ships with the introduction of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2008 in the U.S. Senate by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA).
Each year more than 10 million Americans take cruises, unaware of the possible dangers on board. According to the FBI, sexual assault is the leading crime reported on the high seas. This legislation includes a requirement that cruise ships provide passengers with free, immediate, and confidential access to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotlines (800.656.HOPE and rainn.org) to connect victims with access to rape crisis personnel who are trained to meet the unique needs of Americans traveling overseas.
The legislation follows last week’s U.S. Senate hearing about crime on cruise ships, at which Evelyn Fortier, RAINN's Vice President of Public Policy, testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, and provided recommendations to Congress and the cruise industry on how to improve the safety of cruise passengers.
“RAINN applauds Senator Kerry and Congresswoman Matsui for including key provisions in their legislation that connect passengers on board cruise ships with information about safety, reporting options, medical treatment, and the support services that are available through the National Sexual Assault Hotlines,” said Fortier. “We look forward to working with the cosponsors of this legislation, congressional leaders, and the cruise industry to ensure that the proper steps are taken to reduce passengers’ risk of sexual assault, and expand the rights of those sexually assaulted on board.”
Among Fortier’s recommendations to the committee were to improve the screening and training of crew members who work with passengers, ensure that cruise lines are accountable to the public through accurate public reporting of sexual assaults, and educate passengers before ship departure about the risk of sexual assault onboard, and what to do if they are assaulted during the voyage.
Other provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2008 require cruise ships to address the immediate medical needs of a victim by providing anti-retroviral medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, as well as give victims access to sexual assault evidentiary exams (“rape kits”) to ensure that all forensic evidence is properly preserved. Ships will also be required to have a U.S. licensed medical practitioner on board at all times to perform the necessary medical examinations and administer treatment. Additional provisions of the legislation require that cruise ships equip all staterooms and crew cabins with peepholes and security latches to further enhance safety.
Speaking to passengers on ways of reduce the risk of sexual assault while on a cruise ship, Fortier cautioned, “Even though you're on vacation, don't let your guard down completely. Being on a cruise can create a false sense of community, but in reality the typical cruise ship is like a floating city filled with strangers; if you feel unsafe in any situation, trust your intuition.”
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) in partnership with 1,102 local rape crisis centers across the country. The hotline has helped more than one million people since its start in 1994. RAINN is now piloting the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.