What to Do If You Suspect Child Sexual Abuse on a Cruise Ship

Cruise Ship, Maritime and Personal Injury Attorneys Serving Miami, Florida & Nationwide

Posted: November 18, 2019

Child on a cruise ship holds up a hand indicating stop sexual abuse. Thousands of families go on cruise ship vacations every year. For parents, one of the most enticing aspects of a cruise is the youth zones and activities for children. Many moms and dads can drop their children off at a youth area or onboard daycare and enjoy a kid-free afternoon. However, cruise lines often don’t perform thorough background checks on employees who have direct access to children on a cruise ship. 

While many cruise passengers enjoy their vacations without incident, some experience serious injuries, sexual assault, and rape, all of which can involve children. Recently, a Disney cruise “youth host” was arrested and charged with sexually molesting a ten-year-old boy. 

Attorney John H. (Jack) Hickey and the entire team at Hickey Law Firm have experience with these cases and are available to help 24/7. We also have a closed Facebook group for victims of cruise ship accidents and sexual assault, which offers support and resources. 

If you suspect child sexual abuse, be it on a cruise ship, at home, or any place, follow these steps to help the child and stop the perpetrator from harming children:

1. Recognize the Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Understanding the warning signs of child sexual abuse is essential and can be life saving. Child sexual abuse can involve touching or non-touching. Warning signs range from physical to behavioral changes, including: 

  • Acting inappropriately with toys/objects in a sexual way
  • Sleep disruptions such as nightmares
  • Withdrawn, clingy, or unusually secretive behavior
  • Mood swings, insecurity, anger outbursts, and other sudden personality changes 
  • Regression to younger actions including bedwetting
  • Unexplained fear of specific people or places or not wanting to be alone with a particular person 
  • Changing eating habits 
  • Using adult words for body parts that are new with no discernible source
  • Unexplained gifts or money 
  • Talking about a new friend who is older 
  • Self-harm such as cutting or burning themselves
  • Running away 

If several of these warning signs are present, you should ask questions and seek help. The death of a loved one, pet or a divorce, problem at school, or other traumatic events could also be the reason for some of the signs listed above.

Physical injuries and signs include: 

  • Bruises or soreness around the genitals or mouth that are unexplained
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Pain in the genitals, anus, or mouth
  • Recurring pain during bowel movements and urination
  • Bleeding, discharge, or discoloration in the genitals, anus, or mouth 
  • Soiling or wetting accidents that aren’t related to potty training

2. Talk with the Child and Ask Questions

Some of these signs aren’t immediately evident, which is why asking questions is an essential next step after noticing one or more of the warning signs listed above. Pick a place where the child feels comfortable and avoid speaking with them in front of anyone who could be harming them. Try to use a vocal tone that is soothing, not serious, and casual to help the child be at ease and more likely to give you honest, accurate answers. Talk to him or her directly using words they understand. 

Ask the child questions such as “Has someone been touching you?” That question is vague enough for them to understand, and you can gauge their response and go from there. A child may answer with something along the lines of no one touches them unless it’s a parent at bath time or mentions someone who specifically touches them. Let the child speak freely and wait for a pause to ask follow-up questions and explain what made you concerned. Sometimes, using the word “hurting” could cause confusion. 

Be careful how you phrase your questions so as not to assign judgment or blame. Start your questions and sentences with “I” instead of “you,” such as “I am concerned because…” instead of “You said something that concerns me…” Make sure the child understands they’re not in trouble and that you’re asking these questions and having the conversation because you are concerned about their wellbeing. 

The child may be frightened to have this conversation. Many perpetrators of sexual abuse threaten the child with physical violence or make claims that they’ll be put into the foster care system if they say anything. 

3. Report the Suspected Child Sexual Abuse

Before you report child sexual abuse, tell the child that you’re going to speak with someone who can help. They may be frightened, but make sure they understand you’re not asking for permission. Reporting the crime involves authorities who can help the child and keep him or her safe. 

It’s also critical that you make sure that the child is in a safe place and tell the authorities whether you’re worried the perpetrator will cause more harm when they learn of the investigation. You may also speak with the parents about the harm IF you believe they are not the perpetrator.

If you are the parent and think your spouse or another family member is harming your child, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has advice for parents. Suspected child sexual abuse should be reported to the proper authorities, which is typically Child Protective Services, but the circumstances are different on a cruise ship. 

Reporting Child Sexual Abuse on a Cruise Ship

The 2010 CVSSA Act (Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act) ensures the rights of victims on cruise ships, which includes sexual violence prevention and victim response. This guarantees your right to a sexual assault forensic exam and a report. These rights involve a written summary of who to talk to and where to go in the event of a crime on a cruise ship or a cruise ship accident as well as confidentiality rights to receive support services from medical professionals, counselors, etc. The FBI has jurisdiction over cruises that include a U.S. port, and the victim is an American. 

Sexual assault victims on cruise ships are often under 18, and the recent crime on a Disney cruise shows child sexual abuse is a common occurrence. Report the crime to the appropriate authorities on board and contact the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard about how to proceed. Insist that the crime scene be sealed and secured until law enforcement arrives. Write down witness names, contact information, and other details. You may also call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at (800) 422-4453

Your next steps should be to contact a cruise ship sexual assault attorney who has experience with these types of cases. It’s best to do so while on board. Cruises go through multiple ports and countries, and holding the perpetrator accountable can be difficult, especially without the help of a legal professional. These lawsuits typically must be filed in Miami, Florida. 

Contact Hickey Law Firm in Miami Today

If you suspect your child suffered sex abuse or any harm while on a cruise ship, contact John H. (Jack) Hickey in Miami immediately at (305) 371-8000 for a free case evaluation. Jack Hickey is one of few attorneys double board certified by The Florida Bar in Civil Trial and Admiralty and Maritime Law. We serve clients in Miami, Florida, and nationwide.

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