On December 18, 2004, I was raped in my bunk by a fellow crew member, while docked at a U.S. port.
These are the statements made to me by my supervisor within the first 72 hours of being raped on board the ‘Pride of Aloha’, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line America, a U.S. flagged vessel with a U.S. crew sailing only in U.S. waters:
- “Bad things happen to good people.”
- “You need to put it behind you and get back to work.”
- “Just forget about it and get on with your life.”
- “You don’t have to be afraid of him.”
- “We don’t carry rape kits on board.”
- “You’re lucky this isn’t an international ship. You would both just be fired and kicked off at the next port.”
- “We don’t know who the investigating authority is.”
The following quotes came from the Maui Police Department and the Maui Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room Department:
- “It’s not our jurisdiction – it happened on board. It’s the Coast Guard that should investigate.”
- “Since the investigating authority isn’t here to order it, you can’t have a rape kit.”
When I offered to pay for the rape kit, I was told:
- ”No, it must be ordered by the investigating authority and since they are not here to order it, you can’t have one.”
I went back to the ship, back to the same cabin, to the same bunk, where I had been raped. I put my soiled sheets and clothing in a plastic garbage bag. No one asked me to collect any evidence; I just couldn’t stand to look at them anymore and buried them at the bottom of my locker. It was difficult for me to take a shower, because there had been no rape kit, and a shower would destroy any remaining evidence. There was nothing I could do, so I took a shower.
No one on board was willing to collect any of the evidence. Security told me to hang on to any evidence… they didn’t want it, but assured me they would attempt to figure out who should investigate.
I continued to see my rapist in the gangways and in the crew mess. I continued to endure his comments of “Hello Shari, how are you?” At this point he was denying that he ever stepped foot in my cabin.
Meanwhile I had no alternative but to go back to work. It was extremely difficult for me to do this, but if I wanted to stay on board I had no choice. I had to stay on the ship to make sure they prosecuted my rapist. Other female crew members commented, “If they can do this to you they can do it to any of us. Please see this through for all of us.”
Security still couldn’t tell me who should investigate my rape. I called the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI, both of which were unaware of any rape on board.
Over a week later, the Maui Police Department finally determined they were the investigating authority, but my rapist was never prosecuted. The Hotel Director informed me that as far as the company (NCLA) was concerned, they had decided to allow my rapist to finish out his contract; however, they simply would not re-hire him. They wanted me to know that the company had done all they could.
I knew nothing was going to happen to my rapist, but I told the Hotel Director that I would like to see rape kits placed in the medical center on board. He told me, “Our attorneys are looking into it and couldn’t discuss it further.” I knew talking about the rape would hurt me, in more ways than one; therefore, I did what my supervisors had instructed me to do and forgot about the rape.
I had worked so hard and had given up so much to make it on board. I went back to college at the age of 44, and achieved a 4.0 GPA. I also completed Coast Guard training, which included full-gear firefighting and water survival training, and received my MMD (Merchant Mariner’s Document) as an Ordinary Seaman. I had put all my personal belongings in storage and said goodbye to my parents, children and grandchildren. It wasn’t easy to begin my new career at 46 years old. My ultimate goal was to become an officer and save money for a future back on land with my daughter. Being that I had made it through all of this, I felt that I could certainly make it through a rape. I refused to give up so easily. I stayed with it and worked hard at trying to forget the rape.
In November 2005, I received my promotion to officer with a challenging job on board. My position included the responsibilities of crew welfare, the crew common areas, crew cabin assignments, crew purchases, entertainment, and orientation of new crew members. It was an extremely demanding role, but I was still living my dream.
We sailed into San Francisco in May 2006 for dry dock. I was exhausted. Around midnight a crew member with an illegal pass-key entered my cabin and startled me out of a deep sleep. I asked him what he was doing. He apologized and left my cabin, but unfortunately, the damage had already been done. I could no longer sleep and continued to be extremely anxious.
After three days of no sleep, I broke down and went to the medical center. I found the nurse on board, the same nurse who was on board when I was raped, and explained my situation. I thought that maybe I just needed 24-hours off to get some sleep and pull myself together. I couldn’t understand why I was crying or why I seemed to be having a panic attack. This had never happened to me before.
When I awoke, the ship’s doctor asked to speak with me. He asked me to confirm a few things for him, specifically the sexual assault that occurred while on the ship. When I confirmed this, he asked if I had received any counseling before I was re-assigned to the exact same ship. I confirmed that no counseling had been provided, and that I had been re-assigned to the same ship. He immediately informed me that I was no longer “Fit for Duty” and I was “Medically Disembarked”. I was released from the ship before it sailed that evening, and have been in therapy and unable to work ever since. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of this disorder are horrible, especially to someone who has always been as outgoing as me.
My whole life and personality have changed (not for the better). I am no longer the same outgoing person. I can no longer tolerate being around people. Crowds are especially difficult for me, as well as issues with safety. This affects my entire life… from employment to the ability of attending large and small gatherings.
All of my previous jobs have been working with the public. Before I went to sea, I operated a mobile music service and sang in front of thousands of people. I no longer sing and rarely leave my house. I physically become anxious around other people, and have been haunted with the inability to sleep. When I am finally able to sleep, I have nightmares of being back on board that ship. There are other symptoms too, but the hardest thing for me to accept is the change in my personality; however, with the help of counseling, I am continuing to work on it.….. but it will take a very, very long time.
Through public awareness of what happened to me, my goal is to assist others. Attempting to forget about a rape is not the correct approach for any victim to take, as it will resurface years later and affect your life in so many negative ways. Under no circumstances should a victim ever accept an order or suggestion to “forget about it and get on with your life”. Always remember that it was not your fault! And no matter how difficult it may be, victims must speak up and seek professional help.