Sexual Assault

Cathy Johnson

On December 16, 2006, I took a river cruise in the South of France through Grand Circle Travel, headquartered in Boston, MA. On the first night of the cruise, while the ship was still in dock, a group of us decided to go into town for the evening. When we returned around 11:00 pm, we were greeted by the Hotel Manager, Mario, and the Head Waiter, Joaquim, who served us drinks in the lounge. My roommate had gone back to our cabin. The rest of our group headed back to our respective cabins shortly thereafter. Of those in our group, my cabin was the only one located on the lower deck.

As I proceeded to my cabin, the Hotel Manager, Mario, followed me and noticed that I was having trouble with the door key. As he began helping me with the key, he then started telling me that I was beautiful, that he wanted me, and then he began groping my breasts! In shock, I pushed him away, but he continued again. I told him, “No”, and luckily, at that point I was able to gain entrance to my cabin. My roommate was already asleep and did not see or hear what had just happened to me. Unfortunately, no one else witnessed this either.

I could not believe that someone in his position would act so inappropriately. At no time did I provoke him, lead him to think that I was interested in him in any way, nor welcome his behavior. Not only was I humiliated by his aggressive actions, but the enjoyment of the rest of the trip was diminished.

Throughout the week, Mario continued to flirt with me, even though I ignored and avoided him as much as possible. I was so distraught with what had happened. Since Mario was always at the front desk, I would have my roommate go to the front desk to retrieve our room keys, etc.

There were only 34 passengers, 10 crewmembers, and Mario, who was in charge; therefore, I was unable to report this incident to anyone, except to my roommate and the other passengers with whom I was traveling.

The Captain did not speak English. I was afraid of the possible ramifications, if I reported the incident. A few days later, however, I did have conversation with a waitress, who confirmed that he flirted with several passengers, despite the fact that he was married with children. Unfortunately, he was also her boss.

When I returned home from my trip, I immediately wrote a letter to Alan & Harriet Lewis, Chairmen of Grand Circle Travel in Boston, MA. I received a phone call a few days later from Martha Prybylo, Senior Vice President of People and Culture. She informed me that she would investigate the incident, but that it could take some time, due to the time difference, being that it was now “off season” in France, and the difficulty of locating the crewmembers.

After several weeks had passed without a response, I attempted to contact Ms. Prybylo again, leaving a voice message. Approximately a week later, I received a call from Diana Hayes, Vice President of People & Culture, who stated that Ms. Prybylo was on personal leave and that she was now researching looking into the matter.

Again, I was told it would take some time to complete the investigation. This went on for several months. Each time I called to follow-up, the matter had been passed back and forth between Ms. Prybylo and Ms. Hayes, each assuming that the other was managing my complaint. Not only was I humiliated by the actions of their employee, who had ruined my European vacation, now two high-level representatives of Grand Circle Travel were completely avoiding the resolution of my complaint.

I had been patient throughout the entire process, yet they showed no signs of compassion or respect for my situation. Eventually, I was informed by Ms. Hayes that the key leaders in the France office had interviewed the Hotel Manager and that he denied the accusations (of course he did), but she claimed that he received a 90-day probation and a warning was placed in his personnel file.

In mid-May, I requested compensation for the trip, due to the fact that I was sexually assaulted by one of their employees. Ms. Hayes stated that she would need to do further research.

On May 21, 2007, I received a letter from Ms. Prybylo, stating that even though Mario had been placed on probation, they were denying my request for compensation!

Not only was this humiliating, but the situation was handled by Grand Circle Travel with no compassion, respect, or fairness. It took almost six months for them to respond to my reimbursement request. They had no concern for my feelings or well-being whatsoever! I wish to warn all women to avoid traveling with Grand Circle Travel, whether on a cruise or land excursions