Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault on Cruise Ship

In January 2011, a college friend of mine (“Megan”) and I decided to go on vacation. I recently graduated (December) with my second degree. This trip was a graduation gift from my husband. After researching several locations and cruise itineraries we decided to set sail on the Celebrity Solstice. Fast forward to our departure date: January 23, 2011.
We boarded the ship and immediately found our room to put our belongings.
Our cabin was an inside stateroom and we had a female room steward. That night there was a loud noise coming from above and we did not get much sleep. I tried putting in my headphones and listening to music- to no avail. The next morning we were exhausted and discussed moving to another cabin. It was a huge inconvenience, but I decided to go to guest services to discuss the matter. Guest services said, “they didn’t have any empty interior cabin/rooms, nor could they upgrade us due to the ship being overbooked”. I kindly asked if there was anything they could do because we couldn’t go another 6 nights without sleeping. They magically found another interior cabin we could relocate to. The new steward was a male, named Freddie. Freddie introduced himself to us later that afternoon and seemed to be a nice man.
Later that evening (Jan. 24), my friend was feeling ill at dinner and had to excuse herself. She went back to the cabin to lie down and I finished dinner with our tablemates. After dinner, I immediately went back to the cabin to check on “Megan”. I could tell she definitely didn’t feel well (flu-like symptoms). Megan fell asleep and I didn’t know what to do so I decided to explore the ship. I am not a drinker, nor do I gamble. Therefore, there wasn’t much to do and I wasn’t comfortable being alone on the huge vessel. I decided to go to the computer lab to email my mother and husband. After that, I went to the cafeteria/buffet area and decided to eat dessert.
I went back to the room again and my friend was sick in the bathroom so I decided to go to the library area. I sat there for a bit but eventually decided to go back to the room. Being in such a confined space with a sick friend is not what I call a great vacation. We booked a zip-lining adventure at our first port of call. She still wasn’t feeling well but didn’t want to miss the excursion.
Megan decided to call the infirmary on board to be evaluated. They said it could be several things but didn’t “confirm” a diagnosis. However, they recommended she be quarantined to our cabin. One of our dinner guests (who was on his honeymoon) also became violently ill. Upon returning to my room after dinner one evening, I noticed the stewards removing the throw pillows and sheets etc. out of rooms. Hand sanitizing stations were also set up. Long story short, the cruise finally disbursed a memo under our door that several passengers were suffering from a Nora virus outbreak. At our second port my friend couldn’t even get off the ship without vomiting. She missed a good portion of time on the island.
During the week, our steward was extremely friendly to us. I thought he was being nice but my friend was somewhat disturbed by his comments. If he would see us walking to our room he would run and open the door and ask us questions about our daily adventures. He was extremely attentive to us and the room. Again, I thought he was just doing his job and excelled at customer service. However, in hindsight, he wouldn’t ever miss the opportunity to engage us in conversation.
January 29, 2011 (my husband’s birthday)-my nightmare begins and I will forever be changed. It was supposed to be a relaxing day at sea. My friend and I spent some time at the pool and ate lunch at the Bistro. We visited the photo gallery and spent time with the friends we made and enjoyed our last day at sea. Finally, it was time to get ready for dinner. “Megan” wanted to finish her book at the pool so we decided that only one of us could shower at a time. Therefore, I returned to the cabin to get ready first. Upon returning to the room, I noticed the room had not been serviced for the day (trash cans not emptied, beds not made, bathroom not replenished, etc.).
I found this a bit odd since our steward was always so attentive but figured they had a lot to do before we returned to Fort Lauderdale.
Our steward was in the hallway so I asked him for some clean towels. He said he only had washcloths. I said that was fine we could re-use our towels. He handed me the washcloths and I closed the cabin door and went into the bathroom. I turned on the shower and proceeded to undress. I only had time to remove my shirt (thank goodness I had my swimwear on underneath), when I heard the cabin door open. I thought it was odd for “Megan” to be back so quickly. I hurriedly put my shirt back on. Before getting in the shower, my gut instinct told me something wasn’t right and I needed to open the bathroom door to assess the situation. Upon opening the bathroom door, I noticed our room steward, Freddie standing in our cabin. I was shocked! He said that “he just wanted to come tell me goodbye because I was the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen and he would miss me and never forget me”.
He continued to ask me questions such as: where my friend was, when she would be back, was I married, was my friend married/in a relationship. Trying not to panic, I responded to the questions. However, in my mind it was shear panic and I didn’t want to make him mad. I was hoping if I were somewhat compliant he would leave. He then asked if he could give me a hug good-bye. I agreed thinking he would leave-he DID NOT! During the hug he managed to push me against the wall and rub my back down to my butt and kissed my neck, while rubbing himself upon me and grabbing my breasts. At this point my mind is racing and I’m trying to figure out how to escape. Knowing there was a possibility of him throwing me on the bed next to us and raping me. My body reacted and I pushed myself forward and stepped on his foot in the meantime.
My mind: Whew! I’m free, how will I get him out of the room (he is between the door and myself). Me: Please, No! Steward: What is wrong (sensing agitation)? Me: I am married. The steward then invites me to an empty cabin room. I decline with a simple no. I then proceed to distract him to defer the situation with saying, I find that interesting because I was told that there were no empty cabins and the cruise was overbooked. He acts a bit surprised that I know this information and says, “well I know of some secret rooms where no one would find us”. Again, I replied no. He then asks if “Megan” would be interested. I said, no, she has a boyfriend. I then asked if the ship had a policy about employee’s “mingling” with passengers (once again, hoping this would defer the situation).
Next, I remember him leaving. I sat down on the bed shaking uncontrollably. Do I stay (knowing he could very well re-enter) and wait for “Megan”. Or, do I leave the room to find “Megan” knowing he could possibly be in the hall. I decide the latter is a better option and take my chances leaving the room. At least there was a possibility of other passengers being in the hallway. I walk to the pool deck as fast as I can to find “Megan”. She immediately knew something was wrong and asked what happened. Still in shock, I’m unable to explain the incident. When I’m able to collect myself, I tell her what just happened and she is incredulous but tries to calm me.
Not knowing what else to do she suggests that we get a drink. We went to the bar by the pool. We knew the bartender would remember us because he sold us our “drink” packages and would always greet us when we would get water or other beverages. Without divulging the incident, we obtain some information by asking him questions regarding employee guidelines. We find out Celebrity has a no tolerance policy and employee’s are strictly prohibited from mingling with passengers. We then decide we have to go back to the room to shower. I’m scared to death that we’ll run into Freddie in the hallway. My friend reassures me she will check the hallway first. Fortunately, he is not there and we proceed to our room. We get ready rather quick and head to dinner.
On the way to dinner we run into some friends we met on an excursion. They ask us how our day was and we both mention we are more than ready to get off the ship and we are scared to return to our cabin. We briefly explain what happened and our ship dad (“Jeff”) is livid. He’s a firefighter and has been on several sexual assault calls. He tried to convince me to go to security immediately but I explain that I’m afraid if Freddie finds out, he could potentially do more harm since he has access to our cabin. Jeff’s wife suggests that I report the incident in the morning before disembarking the ship. I wanted to be able to escape the ship. “Jeff” offers to go with me in the morning to file a report and gives us his room # and cell number incase we have any problems. Somewhat relieved, we proceed to dinner. We try to enjoy dinner with the other guests but in reality we can’t get to shore fast enough.
After dinner, we went to the casino with a few dinner mates and then to the show in the auditorium. We all decided to have an early night. Perhaps, the faster we can go to sleep the quicker this nightmare will be over. But before we can do that we need to have a plan of returning to our room. Again, I’m completely terrified of the possibility of seeing the steward but know we eventually have to pack our things. Upon returning, Freddie is outside our cabin. He greets us and “Megan” says hi. I do not respond.
We enter our room knowing it will be a long 8 hours. I am awake all night in fear he could possibly enter our room at any time. Finally, I feel the ship come to a stop after what seems like an eternity. Have we reached U.S.? Can we escape? I just want to run as fast as I can. But…I know that a crime has been committed in our room and it MUST be reported. I do not want this to EVER happen to ANYONE again. I find my inner strength and the courage to meet “Jeff” at Guest Services. He stands in line with me alongside several other passengers. He discretely mentions to the employee that we need to speak with security. The guest service attendant is extremely loud and needs me to explain the incident before security arrives. Humiliated and ashamed, I stand there while “Jeff” quietly says, “we need to report a sexual assault”. We are then told to go to the waiting area until security arrives. The chief of security arrives and I fill out an incident report. He then takes me to the Casino to speak with the Sheriff that came onboard. The Sheriff questions me but did not allow “Jeff” to speak or stay with me. They make me say good-bye to “Jeff”. I am frightened, alone and vulnerable. The sheriff asks me a few questions and takes my statement. Then they (Chief Security and Sheriff), proceed to tell me they have called the room steward down for questioning. I tell them I don’t want to see him again and they respond “then get your things and get off the ship”. Nobody escorted me back down to guest services where “Megan” was waiting. We do as they say and get through customs ASAP. Finally, we are free!!!! Even though, we are on U.S. territory, we soon realize we need to get to the hotel. In order to do that, we need to get in a cab. I’m frightened. “Megan” reassures me that we have cell phones and 911, etc. We get in a cab and take our luggage to the hotel. It is too early to check in but we were able to leave the luggage. We walk to a nearby café and eat brunch. We both just want to get home but our flights don’t leave until the next morning. We take the trolley downtown and spend the afternoon in a populated area near the beach. We then eat an early dinner and head back to the hotel before dark. I need to be up at 3 a.m. to be at the airport by 4 a.m. for my scheduled flight home. In the morning, I find out the hotel/airport shuttle doesn’t start until 5 a.m. and I will need to take a cab. (“Megan’s” flight leaves hours after mine). How in the world will I ever get in a cab alone? The fear is overwhelming. I quickly realize I will forever be change by the assault but I do not have a choice if I want to get home. I decide to briefly explain to the hotel staff that I am petrified. Fortunately, they were understanding and said it was a short ride to the airport without traffic and gave me the hotel number to call once I arrived. This eased my anxiety-I arrived at the airport within 10 minutes. Finally! I am ecstatic to be that much closer to home.
Upon returning home, my husband picked me up at the airport. We have a 3.5 hour drive home and I am dreading telling my husband. He immediately notices something is wrong. I hold myself together long enough to get my luggage and make it to the car. I suddenly burst into tears and sobbingly tell my husband what no one should ever have to experience.
Days and weeks went by before I received an email or a phone call from Celebrity. The email included a $150 voucher as their apology to use on a future cruise. “Megan” also received the same “voucher” for being ill. However, the voucher had several stipulations that came with it. This is where nightmare #2 begins…my fight for accountability.
As of January 2013, Celebrity Cruises (Royal Caribbean) admitted liability but yet, there hasn’t been ANY accountability. Sadly, like most victims, I am “just” another statistic.