Sexual Assault

Teresa Doessel

On May 11, 2002, I arrived at Miami International Airport from Australia to start work on a cruise line  At that time, I was a very outgoing 41-year-old woman with 20 years of experience in the photography industry.

At the airport, two girls greeted me, took me to the bus terminal and told me what bus to get.  Unfortunately, it was going around the corner. After waiting an hour, I went inside to the information desk and asked what was going on. They told me I had to call for that bus and it would pick me up, so they helped me. The bus driver made sure I was dropped off at my hotel, where I was told that another bus to Fort Lauderdale would leave at 7 a.m. the next day. I got to the lobby on time, waited for two hours, and I was told by the girl at the front desk that the bus had left.  All this time, I was the only person in the lobby.

I had to get a taxi to the ship.  I was never reimbursed for the $60 fare as I didn’t get a receipt. I then filled out paperwork which I never saw again, handed over my passport, and was taken to my cabin by a crew member named John Luke.  He then escorted me to the uniform room, and said on the way that I “would do” and that  I was pretty. I then was given uniforms that were too small for me and had to wear them for three days before I could get them changed. I had to use safety pins to keep them together, but was told that there wasn’t time to get them changed.  I also had to change my (?assigned?) shoes twice before they would allow me to wear them.

I was shown around the ship by one of my team members who left that week. I then began induction and emergency procedures. Within two weeks, John Luke had taken a dislike to me and began to do everything possible to make my life miserable. This was my first time on board such a ship and I was suffering from jet lag and disorientation. He would call me in the cabin and tell me to go and look after the gallery on deck. He would leave me there until it was time to be on deck for the gallery, and I would get into trouble with the manager for not being in uniform. Again would constantly call me at all times and get me into trouble because I wasn’t dressed properly or my hair wasn’t tied back or washed, which was an every-day rule with him. He would bully me in front of passengers, yell at me, call me stupid, and make me do things that was his job. He called me names and said on occasions that he hated Australians.

In the gallery were four boards that had to be put on nails and hung from the window. They were very heavy, and I had to put them on the window by myself. The team crew would not help me. Because of John Luke’s harrassment, I couldn’t sleep and felt disoriented.  My too-small uniform cut into my skin and my shoes gave me blisters. Even though I was seasick, I was too busy to do anything about it.

Once I complained to the manager — I can’t even remember his name –about John Luke and my illness.  He told me to see the doctor if I was sick; that was the first time I knew there was a doctor on board. I told the doctor how I was being treated and said I wanted to change ships if possible. He did nothing about it.

Jen, another new crew member, shared the cabin with me. She at first took me under her wing, showed me around, and told me about ship life and protocols. Then, after two weeks, her boyfriend came on board and she changed. She basically took over the cabin, and put flowers in the cabin even though I told her I was allergic to them.

I began spending time in the crew bar area to meet people, even though I don’t drink much. But John Luke would find me there, buy everyone drinks and make me drink even when I said no. Crew members who were in the bar, would gang up on me if I didn’t. Then my manager would chastise me for drinking and not being at work on time. I tried to tell him what was going on but he didn’t want to know. One month into the cruise, I was showing signs of jumping ship. (? Does this mean changing to another ship or just leaving at port?) I hated going to the crew lunchroom, as the men leered at me and pestered me if I sat alone, so I would try and eat with the passengers.

I never felt safe and would complain to the doctor, but he told my manager so I could not trust him.  I managed to make friends with some crew who let me come to their cabins and use their toilets as Jen would tell me off for going to our cabin and waking her. There were no toilets for the ladies near the crew bar, so when I was seasick I had to use the men’s toilets.  Once I was given a warning about this by the purser.  When off duty, I began wandering around on passenger decks and hiding out. I found the passengers fun to be around.

Later I got a second warning from the purser. To this day I don’t know what it was about. I was told to shut up and listen, even though I was trying to tell them what was going on. Once I was told by John Luke to wait for him at the gate as we would be photographing the passengers when they came on board. I waited there for a few hours, and one of the crew came from the bridge and asked me why I was there for so long. I told him John Luke sent me there to wait. Nothing was done about it.

At port, on my days off, I would go ashore. I was often told that I was needed back at the ship, so I would hurry back only to find that it wasn’t the case. Jen and John Luke would tell the crew to do this just to ruin my day. Sometimes I would go to beautiful parks and sleep. Once, I met a really nice guy named Jasper to whom I told my horrible experiences. He said he had a plan to help me escape from the ship and when I was back at that port he would help me, but I never got to disembark at that port again. I still have his address.

One and a half months into the cruise, I had learned how to hide out from John Luke and Jen.  Some crew members would tell me what was going on and urged me to watch my back. They would stand in for me if I needed to go to the toilet. My team members wouldn’t do this. Instead, they would mock me to other crew members, who found it to be really funny.  If I closed up even two minutes before time, they said they would report me to the pursers office — a third strike and I would be out. I even wet myself on two occasions because nobody would relieve me. I would be told by John Luke, “Don’t ring us, too bad for you, get with the program.
Don’t ring the manager either, as he doesn’t want to be disturbed.” Meanwhile, Jen was with her boyfriend and never there for me, or  would be yelling at me for coming into the cabin. She would mock me in the corridor to other crew members.
Some guys gave me the nickname of the crew bar Queen. I would be pulled aside and chastised for being in the bar all the time. Once my team leader threatened me and accused me of being an alcoholic.  At this point, I cried a lot, was very nervous, didn’t trust any one and was worried about my welfare on board. No one listened and no one cared. I was at the doctor’s every week complaining about the conditions I was in. He gave me some pills, but I never took them as I didn’t trust him.  I truly was afraid for my life.

Two months into the cruise, I was upset all the time, bullied, isolated, mocked, made to do things I didn’t want to and left out of my team’s activities. I was too worried to go to my cabin, so I slept in the crew bar at times or hid in places no one could find me. I even thought about jumping off the ship and swimming for land, but the engineer talked me out of it and said I wouldn’t survive. I had become withdrawn, didn’t eat in the crew areas and hid whenever I could. No one was any help and I was isolated.

Then we had a change of crew and I became friends with a nice guy named Tom, a trumpeter, who came on board. Things were fine for a little while until John Luke bullied me in front of him. Tom asked him why he was doing this and to leave me alone. John Luke replied that I was bad and dirty, and needed to be pulled into line.

Although my clothes were too small for me, I was too scared to complain, as I would be taken to the purser’s office for complaining and would be told to shut up and listen before I could speak. This was also the doctors attitude also.

One night, when I was in a food bar for passengers, a young girl sat with me. She told me to go home and that I didn’t need to be put through this sort of grief. I said I couldn’t afford to fly home and they wouldn’t send me home either. She was sad for me and worried about the state I was in.
Tom started to cut me off and I didn’t know why. I heard that John Luke had said something to him but didn’t pay too much attention to it as it was another story. I would be accused of being in the crew bar when I wasn’t and of doing things when I wasn’t. Worst of all, I was accused of taking money from the gallery. I reported this to the purser, who dismissed it.  The money was put back a few days later.

I also met a passenger who witnessed John Luke’s behavior to me and came one day to the gallery and asked what was going on, I told her as she was very nice to me and could see I needed help. She was shocked and reported what had happened to me and tried to help me stay away from him, so we were together a lot on deck. I have her e-mail and address.

One night, a crew member came to me in the crew bar and told me to watch my back as some of the crew were planning to do “horrible things” to me. He said he was afraid to say any thing. I did ask him what was planned, but had become used to tricks and harassment. Even so, I wondered if they were going to throw me off the ship.  About a week later, on July 22, Tom urged me to join him in the crew bar for some drinks. I said it would be fine, although two nights before this I had promised  my manager that I wouldn’t drink, so I stayed away from the bar as much as possible.

I went down to the bar and met Tom. My manager came by later and asked if I wanted a drink. I said no. He was taken back but accepted that I said no. I have kept my bar tab to prove that this was the case. After awhile another crew member joined us.  I knew him only slightly as Mario, a Mexican who worked in the kitchen and who was around Tom a lot. He sat with us for some time and we were all laughing and having fun. They were drinking heavily, but I kept sober. Unlike his usual habit, John Luke kept away from me that night.

They talked me into going to Mario’s cabin when the bar closed. I said it would be OK, as Tom was with me.  Mario, Tom, and I got there and sat down. Mario asked if we wanted a drink, Tom said yes, and Mario asedk me if I wanted wine or ouzo.  Both of these make me sick, so I said one wine and then I’m going to my cabin as I was tired.

I had two sips of the wine and felt a bit dizzy. I told Tom that I felt sick all of a sudden. I remember he was all over me and Mario was sitting silently. The walls were getting funny and the dizzy feeling was getting worse. I could hear Tom talking to me. he tried to take my shirt off as I wanted to be sick. I was in another world and could only make out their faces. I remember standing up and must have collapsed and hit my head on the bunk.

Tom was trying to take my clothes off and Mario was trying to get me on the bed. I was coming in and out of consciousness and remember Mario putting something on my face. It smelled and made me even more sick, so that I wanted to vomit. By this time I couldn’t stand up and Tom had taken all my clothes off. I remember there were other men in the room also and I could hear them laughing. I was paralyzed and couldn’t move, my head was spinning and I felt sick. Tom lay on top of me and had sex with me as I lay there paralyzed. I remember I was a bit spaced out because I couldn’t move and didn’t know what was going on or where I was.

When Tom finished having sex with me, Mario had his turn. He didn’t like how I was lying and got the other guys to turn me over.  The men in the room thought it was funny and were excited that there was a naked woman in the cabin.  One of them was masturbating on the chair; my head was at that end of the bottom bunk  and I could just make him out. The other guys in the cabin were just watching. I was in and out of consciousness. Again, Mario put the smelly substance over my face. I don’t remember after that but woke some hours later and Tom was sitting in the chairs and Mario was on his knees with only his jeans on, stroking my head saying to me it will be all right. I was dazed and confused why Mario was doing what he was doing. At this point I didn’t know that I was naked and that they had drugged my drink and raped me.  I did not and never had consented to this.

I sat up. My head was sore and swollen,  I had bruises over my body and was still dizzy. I jumped to my feet screaming “Where are my clothes?” Tom and Mario were in the corner freaking out. I grabbed Tom and started punching him in the head. I still didn’t have any clothes on and felt sick. Mario was trying to calm me down and I turned on him and started to hit him in the head. I was a crazy woman and saw red as I had realized what they had done. Tom ran out of the room to his cabin., while Mario was dealing with me. No one came to my aid. Mario gave me my clothes and I put them on and ran after Tom. I got to his deck screaming and kicking the door in. His cabin mate came to the door and said to me Tom didn’t want to see me and what was wrong as Tom had been there all night with him. I was screaming and woke the whole deck up. Nobody wanted to call the night manager as they would all get into trouble for drinking in the crew bar.

I was dazed, in shock and overwhelmed at how I had been treated. One man calmed me down and took me back to my cabin, where I lay feeling sick, unable to stand properly, while Jen was angry because I woke her up. I had to go to the top deck and open the gallery that morning, still in shock, dazed, and feeling like I was going to pass out. I had only gotten to the gallery when John Luke came and said that I should report the sexual assault,and the manager is waiting to hear from me. So I went and told him. I hadn’t told any one about this, nor did any one on Tom’s deck know what had happened, but somehow John Luke and my manager already knew.

I was then taken down to the doctor, who  asked me a few questions. I didn’t want to talk with him and just said that I had been raped. I was given some pills which I threw out.
I then was taken to the purser’s office and asked if I wanted to make a statement. I said yes. They brought in a security officer who said it will never go anywhere and I will never be able to prove what happened. The purser decided he was right and that police need not come on board; after all, I was drinking and the crew didn’t like me. The statement I wrote was ripped up in front of me. My manager was brought in; he told them that I was a very outgoing, funny personality and he was shocked that such a thing would have happened to me.
The captain never saw me and never said anything to me about this.

I was then asked what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to leave the ship. The manager was so excited he couldn’t wait to get someone new and the pursuer told him to wait before he did this. I knew at this point I had to get my passport and get the hell of this ship and away from what I now see as pirates and a corrupt system. I never had a chance and was singled out from the first day, as shown in the remark by John Luke.

I was then taken back to my cabin and later saw the doctor again, who tried to pressure me into telling what happened. I refused to say anything to him.  I was dismissed of my duties on board the ship and was free to move around the ship. My head hurt and the bruising was going yellow. I stayed on deck most of the time where I was around the passengers. Some passengers knew, or guessed, what had happened. One doctor on board was selling art; I sat with him and his wife and they knew what had happened and advised me what to do when I got off the ship, how to stay safe and report this, as the ship wasn’t going to and I probably wasn’t safe.

Some of the crew threatened that if I reported this they will say I lied and that they would kill me.  Others said I made it all up and that it never happened.  Some other called me a slut and said I let all the guys have their way with me. I was isolated completely. Tom approached me on many occasions asking me to forget it, he didn’t do anything wrong and that the ship was sending him home. Mario would corner me in the food bar for the passengers and give me a hard time and tell me he was sorry and that the ship was sending him home.

The day they were to leave the ship, they found me in the crew bar. They sat down and I faced them and asked them why they did this to me. Mario said he was sorry for what he did and was going home for good and hated the shipboard life. Tom was still drunk and couldn’t say anything except I had ruined his life. Mario gave me back my underwear that I had left in his cabin.  I never got back jewelry I was wearing that night — a gold cross and a smiley face given to me by a friend who later died.

I was never given a rape kit or was the rape reported to the police.  I was made to clean the door that I kicked in.  For three days I was unable to sleep, fearing for my life. When I got off the ship, I got home as fast as I could. The bruising was now really yellow and I had to wear a jumper to hide it. I didn’t speak with anyone on my flight home. I saw my doctor as soon as I got home. I informed the maritime union and Australian police about the assault.

I was shaken up, withdrawn, uncommunicative, untrusting, and on guard with everyone, including my family, who didn’t know what had happened.  I wasangry and suffering post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and tremors. I had left Australia  a normal 41-year-old woman who was healthy and very much together.  Upon my return, my friends were asking what happened to me. It was that obvious.

I was sent to the rape center for counseling and a checkup. I didn’t have my period for three months.  I went to a hospital for a pregnancy test.  I had to avoid alcohol as it made me violently sick and I would suffer from blackouts and collapse, would fall over all the time and had to have several head scans.  I saw a psychiatrist , but he didn’t deal with post-traumatic stress and insulted me. I went to legal aid, and they wrote to the ship requesting my medical results.  They never got a response from the ship or the police. They requested my files and other things, and never got them. They were powerless in this case. I then got in touch with maritime again, who managed to get me an insult of a response from the ship’s incident coordinator.  That person tried to contact me and offered counseling via e- mail. I refused to speak with her or anyone on or associated with that ship. It is noted that I was adopted and have no next of kin. I don’t have any evidence to support that, and my mother might have something to say about it. I do have a birth certificate, and a daughter.

Since my assault, it has taken me three years just to get on a boat, five years to pick my cameras up and start photographing. I’m now in a totally different field of work. My career has been ruined.

I no longer have friends, as they couldn’t cope with my personality change and couldn’t understand what has happened. I no longer go out to meet new people, which in the past I loved to do. I can’t hold down a job due to my tremors and can’t put up with anyone trying to get me to do things their way. I now have a violent temper and react to any one who is vicious, manipulative, or challenges me.

I have thought about ending my life. I have managed to stay away from drugs and alcohol, as I black out.  I have a violent temper towards men. I suffer from depression, which I never had before, and can’t keep a relationship.
These events stay with me all the time and I remember them just like yesterday. I don’t sleep properly and still get nervous. I still have nightmares and flashbacks.  My zest for life is lost, and I have distanced myself from my family and daughter, who to this day don’t know what happened. ‘m ashamed to tell them in fear they will retaliate,. They think I had a good time and I don’t care. I am numb most of the time and don’t react.
At some stages now I just want to die. I have never recovered from what they did on the ship and I’m disappointed in life now.  I do not smile in fear I will be cut down or taken advantage of again. I have trust issues with everyone and hide at home. The first few years were the hardest trying to get some sense out of it all and to get my memory back as I had blocked it out for some time.

Not being able to find the right people to report this has been hard. Five top lawyers in Sydney couldn’t help me ,the maritime union couldn’t help me, the Australian embassy couldn’t help me and most of all a U.S. maritime lawyer couldn’t help me … time lock, well you know I’m in there, the time lock ,and I want out so could someone give me the keys please!!! Post-traumatic stress and my personality changes, they belong on the ship.
I would like this to be recognized and have watched over the years how they get rid of people on these ships and kill them … and no justice as such. While this is left open I will not give up.

No one should ever have to deal with such an event in their life and be expected to fear for their life, I feel for those who were placed in the kill zone and know what they would have gone through. I think what saved me was my street sense and found ways to hide in places on the ship and I can tell you they are there.
This has changed me and my life. I do not function as a normal person and it has saddened me as I want me back and so do my friends.

I will leave this in your hands now and maybe something will get done, and the guilty will be punished for their behavior and how it has changed my life. I will take this to another level if I have to, just for those who left their life there on the sea. If some one had listened in the first place, all those years of shame on ships wouldn’t be there … and they would still be alive having fun on what would have been a job and cruise of a lifetime.

Thank you

Teresa Doessel