Sexual Assault

Story of Barbara

I am writing this to tell readers of the ICV forum about my horrible experience on a 2009 cruise, and about the lack of concern the cruise line personnel demonstrated for my well-being in a situation that could easily have proven fatal. I could say much more than I am giving here, but am keeping my story understated due to possible legal reprisals from the other individual involved, whom I am leaving unnamed.
In March 2009 I was 36 years old and was living in a Midwestern state. I decided to go on a five-day Carnival cruise to the Bahamas with a man I was then dating. Before this trip, I had been on several cruises and had traveled abroad with no problems.
On the fourth day of the cruise, my then-boyfriend and I went on a Carnival-sponsored day trip to Cozumel, Mexico. We spent some time snorkeling, and then made a trip to town. We stopped in a bar, the name of which I don’t remember. A few men and women from the snorkeling excursion were there, and they waved to us and asked us to join their group.
I wanted to do so, but my companion seemed to resent my willingness. I could tell that he was jealous, so we didn’t join them. We stayed at our own table, and I remember having a drink. That’s the last thing I remember from Cozumel.
The next thing I remember is waking up, sick and not knowing where I was or what had happened. As I became aware of my surroundings, I realized that I was naked on the floor of our cabin on the cruise ship, with my arms and legs tied together behind my back. This awareness came to me gradually; I was vomiting on and off and things seemed blurry, as though I were passing in and out of consciousness.
For what seemed like hours, I remained helpless on the floor. I remember the person in the room left and came back several times. I now know it was my boyfriend, but at the time I didn’t know for sure who it was, or if there were more than one person. Never did he say anything to me. I was hit, slapped, dragged around the room, and otherwise abused physically and sexually, though I do not believe that I was raped. I begged that whoever was doing this not hurt me, said that I wanted to see my daughters again, and promised not to tell anybody what happened if I were released.
Besides being physically sick, and lying in my own vomit, I was too confused and scared to think about screaming for help or demanding to be released.
I woke up again the next morning, untied and in bed. My companion was dressed and listening to music on his iPod. He expressed no interest in my state of health, was extremely angry, and threw at me a typed letter from the cruise line, curtly saying that I had demonstrated an inability to control my alcohol intake and would not be served alcohol for the rest of the cruise (which ended the next day). He said I had gotten so drunk on shore that I was brought on board in a wheelchair; that I had humiliated him by getting so drunk; and that he had tied me up (when I was still unconscious) to show how my trying to talk with our fellow cruisers at the bar was so dangerous, as though “this is what could have happened.” In fact, at his hands, this is what did happen.
At this point, I want to ask some common-sense questions. My companion told me that as I was being wheeled on board the ship, some women employees exclaimed about how drunk I was. The cruise ship personnel obviously assumed that I had overindulged; I don’t know what my companion told them. But as far as I know, nobody from the cruise ship ever did any investigation at all.
Nobody checked out the bar we went to or asked for a local police report. If a foreign woman passes out at a bar in a resort city and is carried on board a cruise ship, wouldn’t someone be likely to notice? And if I had been carousing to the degree my companion said, wouldn’t the other passengers in the bar, or bar employees, have noticed?
Apparently nobody in the cruise ship staff thought to investigate the situation. If my companion had told them his version of what happened, shouldn’t they at least confirm the story? Even if they couldn’t be bothered to check out the bar, there were witnesses to whatever happened on board, whose versions of events could easily be gotten.
Isn’t it standard procedure for cruise personnel to make an incident report, especially where there are possible legal ramifications? Isn’t someone in a helpless situation extremely vulnerable, and doesn’t the cruise line have the obligation, legally as well as humanely, to provide some kind of medical assistance? If I had in fact drunk so much that I had passed out, can the cruise line simply dump me in my cabin and wash their hands of the matter? (It’s worth noting that I had not demonstrated inability to limit my alcohol consumption earlier in the cruise.) No police force accepts a report without investigating; why should cruise security not be held to the same standards?
When the ship returned to port, in Miami, I got off and returned to my house, my job, and my normal life – or as normal as it could be. I told a friend what had happened, and she, wisely, insisted that I keep photographic evidence of my rope burns and bruises from my abuse. So she photographed them, recorded them, and I still have the evidence to support my story.
My former boyfriend, soon after the cruise ended, began coming to my house, abjectly apologizing for “what he had done,” though he never specified just what that was. He showed up so often, asking to come in, that I considered it to be stalking. I was a single mother with two children, and had no life experience in dealing with this kind of situation. I was also suffering the after-effects of my abuse, and from the destruction of my illusion of what kind of man my former boyfriend was.
I was not sure what I should do, but did not let him in my house and kept away from him. He kept pursuing me, seemingly in a threatening manner, for a month or two. Eventually he let me alone.
I was undergoing counseling, and my counselor encouraged me to tell the police about my ordeal, saying that doing so would be in my best interest. So that September, I went to them. Because everything had happened overseas, they referred me to the FBI that month. Both the police and FBI were supportive, and helped me get a temporary restraining order barring my former boyfriend from visiting or otherwise harassing me.
In October, the FBI called and told me that the case had been closed because of lack of evidence. The special agent with whom I spoke was professional but sympathetic, as were the local police.
I never provided the cruise line with a formal report of what happened in my cabin. However, I hold them morally responsible for not looking after my interests or taking any steps to find out what really happened. Without investigating, how can they conclude that I was responsible for drinking too much?
It has been suggested that I was given something like a date-rape drug. Obviously I don’t know, but my symptoms after waking up seem to support this scenario. Certainly the possibility is real enough that cruise lines owe it to passengers to investigate incidents, both for humane reasons and for their own protection. My friends tell me they wouldn’t think of going on a cruise after what happened to me. The cruise lines have a legal and moral obligation to protect their passengers. I feel that their obligation to me was ignored. Sadly, other cruise passengers might pay the ultimate price.
I cannot hold the cruise line responsible for my companion’s behavior, but I still don’t know exactly what happened in the bar. What I do know is that the cruise line showed no interest in helping me, and came to its conclusions about what happened without hearing my side of the story. How many other passengers is the industry prepared to write off in times of trouble?