I just wanted to see the dolphins…
On May 23, 1999, my family and I (age 12 at the time) boarded a Carnival cruise ship where we spent the next seven days, cruising the Caribbean! It truly was a dream come true, or so we thought…
On the afternoon of May 27, 1999, a teen group went swimming together in the main pool, which included me. After swimming, we decided we’d have a ping-pong tournament before dinner, but I first wanted to change out of my wet bathing suit. I was wearing a slip-on dress over my bathing suit. I told the group I would meet them later and to go on without me.
We were in Mexico on this is particular day. As I stood in front of the elevator, and pushed the elevator button to descend to our stateroom, a crewmember approached me from behind and entered the elevator with me. He asked me if I was having a nice day. The strangest thing was that he knew my name.
The crewmember asked me if I’d like to see where the dolphins play. Of course, I was excited and replied, “Yes”. There was no reason for me to be afraid, because he was a crewmember! He said that he needed to do something first, so he gave me the directions, using the map that was posted in the elevator. At the next floor, he exited the elevator.
I followed the crewmember’s directions… When I got to the door, a little voice inside me told me to turn back and get away from that area, because he was not there yet. I turned around and started to head back to the elevator, but just before I got there I heard him call my name. I turned around and it was almost as if he had just appeared out of nowhere. He asked, “Where are you going? Don’t you want to see the dolphins?”
I was a little nervous, but headed back towards him. When we arrived at the door, he told me to wait around the corner, because passengers were not usually allowed to go into this particular area. I actually felt very special, because I was going to a location on the ship where no one was allowed, a place where no one else would get to see the dolphins.
I then heard him yell something in Spanish through the door. I thought again about leaving, but by this time he had already led me through the doorway to a room full of huge blue machinery. He told me to follow him, so I did. We walked through the room and he pointed to a small porthole. I looked through it and realized that we were at the very front of the ship, because it came to a “V” shape.
He started making conversation with me, not just “small talk”. He knew things about me that he could not have possibly known without researching it. He knew my dog’s name (“Shadow”), my siblings’ names, my cabin number, and even my brother’s birthday. At this point, it was obvious that he had been stalking me.
At this point, I knew I was in trouble, but I still had no idea to what extent. I knew I had to get out of there, but I did not know how to escape, since he was between the door and me. I was the most scared I had ever been in my life, but I didn’t want to show it.
I started walking back towards the door. Within only ten yards to the door, I almost made it. I was standing next to what looked like a giant wench. It was huge, blue, and round. I had seen things like this on smaller boats, but never quite as big. This piece of machinery will never be forgotten, because this was the place where he made his advances.
The crewman asked me how old I was… I thought, “Maybe he thinks I am 18-years old or older” and possibly may have thought that I was interested in him. For a second, this made me feel a little better… so I relaxed a little and replied that I had just turned “twelve”.
I decided to come up with an excuse to get out of there, thinking he would realize his mistake… I told him that my Dad and I were going snorkeling, before we left port that day, so I needed to get going before my Dad got worried. I was so wrong! The crewmember used this information against me and said, “I thought you were a swimmer. You look like one. You have a very strong back.”
This was the point, where my whole life would change FOREVER. He said, “Have you ever had your back popped?” I said, “No, but I really should go.” He continued, “Just let me pop your back. It will feel good, and then you can go.”
He popped my back and said, “Okay, now you pop mine.” Again, I told him that I needed to go, but he made me feel bad for not reciprocating. He insisted that I do the same to him.
He demanded, “Do my back, then we can go.” Fearfully, I wrapped my arms around him, but he claimed that I was doing it wrong. Accordingly, he wrapped his arms around my back and pulled me tight against his body. I felt his hard penis against me. He whispered in my ear, and asked me if I liked it! I softly said, “No”, and started crying.
He smiled, almost laughed. The next thing I remember, he pinned me against the giant blue wrench, pressing his pelvis hard against my body and began to kiss my ear and touch my breasts. He removed my dress, and told me to lie down. While sobbing, I screamed, “No!” I knew I was about to be “raped”! He laid me down and continued to touch me, kiss my neck, ear, and lips. I tried to scream, but I choked on my own tears.
When I screamed, he just smirked. No one could hear me. When he was finished, he stood up and looked down at me lying there. All I could think about was how much it hurt. He must have known what I was thinking. He leaned close to my ear (I was shaking uncontrollably) and said, “Don’t ever tell anyone about this, because I will find you… and I will kill you, your Mom, your Dad, Brendan, Joy and then your best friend, Shadow. I promise, I will find you wherever you are.” Then, he left. He just walked out and left me there on the floor.
I don’t know how long I was there, bleeding, and in pain. When I finally got up, I went directly to our stateroom, got into the shower with my bloody clothes, and just tried to pull myself together. As I watched my blood go down the drain, I tried to convince myself that this horrific thing had not really happened to me. I don’t remember how long I remained in the shower, but I just wanted to die.
I actually thought I could live my life as though nothing had ever happened. Part of me believed that I had done something wrong, and that I had somehow brought this on myself.
It wasn’t until later, when one of my friends, Ryan, noticed something wasn’t right with me and came up from behind me and put his hand on my shoulder to ask if I was okay.
As soon as he touched me, I violently jerked away… and Ryan knew something was wrong. He asked me again if I was okay. At this point, it was just the two of us. I felt my eyes welling up with tears. I kept hearing my attacker’s voice, “I will find you and kill you”. By now, I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The teen group leader took me to a place where just the two of us could talk. I had to tell her something, so I told her just part of the truth… I told her that a crewmember took me to a machine room, where he hugged me, and touched me (not in an appropriate way). She immediately took me to the security office.
My parents were called and soon arrived in the office with worried expressions on their faces. I honestly don’t know what scared me more… the fact that I had just been raped or that the rapist would come and “find me and kill me”, if I told anyone. So, I told no one that I had been raped! At first, the security personnel made it painfully clear that they did not believe what I had told them, so I believed that if they doubted me, why in the hell would they ever believe I had just been raped?
Before my parents arrived, the security personnel told me that they did not believe me, and claimed that I had a “wild” imagination. I was so angry!
The personnel told me to take them to that particular room. Since this room was off-limits to passengers, I assumed that’s why I had to take everyone back to the horrible room, where I had just been raped… just for Security to take me seriously. The moment I led them to the room, their facial expressions went from “smug” to “worried”, and they finally believed that I had definitely been to that room.
For the next few hours, I looked through composites photos of crewmen. I picked out ten pictures of crewmen, who resembled my rapist… but at the time, I was so traumatized that I could never pick him out for fear of my life and the lives of my family members. Remember, I was just 12-years old!
The ship’s Security gathered all ten men and asked me to identify my rapist. I could see the men, but they could not see me. I was asked to identify the man who has assaulted me, but not before the ship authorities warned me… to be absolutely certain of my choice, because if I made a mistake I would “ruin a man’s life forever”.
There were two days left on our cruise, but nothing else was done. I did tell my nearly 10-year old brother about the rape and I also told my best friend, Shadow (my dog). My brother was too young to understand… and obviously, Shadow couldn’t talk.
Two years later, when a friend confided in me about being sexually assaulted at a young age, I too confided in her that I also had been raped at age twelve, while on a cruise. She told my Mom, who had known nothing about the actual rape.
By then, 3 years had passed. My Mom confronted me and said “Jessie told me that you were raped on the cruise ship. Were you?” I looked her in the eye and said, “Yes”! That’s when I explained what had truly happened to me on the cruise. She was stunned. My terrible secret was finally out in the open… and my healing could finally begin.
Shortly after I revealed the facts about my assault, we decided to file a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Line. Who knows how many other victims, like me, are out there?
We settled my case “out-of-court”, which did give me a little bit of justice. I have been healing from my ordeal with the wonderful assistance of my therapist, good friends, and most importantly, my family. I was lucky to have a very strong support system.
Two years ago, if you had told me I would be happy again, I would have thought you were crazy… but I am finally happy. I just graduated from high school with a B+ average… and I will be attending a college in the Fall. I have a bright future again!
For other victims of rape, who are reading my story and who may still be keeping their own terrible secret, please know that your life will get better. You can get through this… I KNOW, because I DID!!