Sexual Assault

Laurie Dishman

My best friend, Michelle, and I decided to celebrate our thirty-year friendship. I have known her since I was five years old, and so we thought, “How about going on a cruise together?” We decided to take a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Mexican Riviera in February 2006. Just think — seven days of fun and sun, relaxing with umbrella drinks in our hands. I couldn’t wait…But little did I know of the dangers that awaited me… 
The trip started out great – Ports of call, dinners, shows, drinks in the lounges, meeting other passengers and dancing. We were having so much fun, but everything in my life changed on February 21, 2006…
Michelle and I were in the Viking Crown Lounge, when we were approached by a crewmember, whose badge indicated that he was a “security guard.” He demanded to see our IDs and asked whether we were old enough to be drinking in the bar. He asked for our cabin number.
As the night continued, Michelle and I talked and danced with other passengers. When I decided to go up and request a song, that same crewmember approached me and held my wrist and kissed me, while trying to whisper something in my ear. I said, “No, get away”. Then, I headed back to be with Michelle and get away from this man. I was upset, so Michelle brought me back to my cabin and waited for me to fall asleep, before she headed back to the lounge.
Later, there was a knock at the door. It was dark. Thinking it was Michelle, I opened the door halfway, but it was him! He forced his way into my cabin and pushed me onto the bed. I struggled and tried to resist, but he raped me. He left me, passed out on the bed with ligature marks around my neck.
When I woke up, I didn’t know who to call, because my rapist was supposedly “security”. I told Michelle what had happened, and we decided to call the Purser’s desk, which prompted two officers to come to our cabin. Instead of securing the cabin, they sat on the bed, where the rape occurred. Eventually, I was permitted to go to the ship’s doctor, but he told Michelle and I to go back to our cabin and collect the sheets & clothing from the incident and to place then in plastic bags, which they had provided. I also wrote a demanded statement and gave it to the officers on the ship. The entire process was so humiliating! That same day, I told the Captain that I was frightened and just wanted to go home.
We flew to Los Angeles, where the FBI interviewed us. We were informed that the FBI was taking this matter “very seriously.” And we actually believed they were.
I arrived back home the following day to be with my family. On March 3, 2006, I received a call from the FBI, who informed me that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was not going to prosecute my case. They said that it was a “he said/she said” case. I felt violated all over again!
Later I learned that the DOJ declined the case for prosecution and that the FBI closed the “investigation” on the same day that the cruise ship returned to port… before anyone began a serious effort of investigating the crime. I have also learned that there has never been a successful prosecution of a single violent crime in the history of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL), such as rape, since its’ 1969 existence.
I am attempting to re-open the investigation and gain some answers. RCCL will not provide me with the name, address, nationality, or current whereabouts of my rapist. They refuse to provide me with my own medical records and my statement from the ship, nor will they inform me if my rapist, their own employee, has HIV/AIDS or other diseases.
The only thing I received from the cruise line, following this incident, was a promotional letter from the President of RCCL, which stated, “Thank you for sailing with us and giving us the opportunity to send you home with an experience to remember.” He even included a discount coupon! Once again, I felt humiliated and could not stop crying.
It’s clear to me that the RCCL, FBI and DOJ will never assist victims of crimes that occur on foreign flagged cruise ships.
I have sought professional assistance and therapy, and I intend to seek justice on my own. I have called, written and met with the staff of my Senator and Congresswomen. I will not allow the cruise line industry to make me just another crime statistic.
I am thankful to International Cruise Victims (ICV) for providing me with the opportunity to tell my story, in an effort to protect other passengers from being unsuspecting victims on cruise ships.