Crime on Cruise Ships

In 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 (CVSSA) to address safety issues on cruise ships, including sexual violence prevention and victim response. RAINN helped to advocate for the Act, which ensures that passengers have access to necessary resources to receive medical attention, have a sexual assault forensic exam on board, and make a report, should sexual violence occur.

Cruise passenger rights

As part of CVSSA, passenger rights were established to increase safety for travelers on cruise ships. Knowing these rights before you board may help you feel more secure, and they can help you speak up if something happens. You can learn more about these rights from information published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

  • You have the right to receive a security guide, a written summary which describes where to go and who to talk with if a crime occurs. The security guide must also include criminal law procedures for crimes committed in any waters the vessel might travel through during the voyage, as well as a list of U.S. embassy and consulate locations in foreign countries the cruise ship will be visiting.
  • You have the right to have a sexual assault forensic exam on board. Cruise ships must have the equipment and materials for performing this medical exam, should a sexual assault occur.
  • You have the right to confidentiality when you request and receive support services. Any information you provide to medical staff, counselors, and other support staff while receiving services after a sexual assault must remain confidential; this includes information disclosed during a sexual assault forensic exam and any other support services available.

Security on board

Cruise ships typically have security personnel on board who are employees of the cruise line, not law enforcement officials. These security officers are usually trained in areas necessary to maintain safety on the ship and protect evidence, such as sealing off a room where a sexual assault took place, but it is not their role to conduct a law enforcement investigation.

Investigating crimes on cruise ships

If the victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault is an American national, and their ship sails from or to a U.S. port, then the FBI will have jurisdiction over the case. In other circumstances, it's more complicated to determine which agency—or even which country—has jurisdiction. The location of the vessel, the nationality of the perpetrator or victim, ownership of the vessel, the points of embarkation and debarkation, and the country in which the vessel is flagged may all have an effect on jurisdiction. You can read more about crimes committed on cruise ships, and other circumstances in which the FBI has jurisdiction to investigate, from the FBI.

If you experience sexual assault on a cruise ship

  • You may wish to seek medical attention to treat any possible injuries and to check for injuries you may not be able to see. If you are at sea, you can receive care from the ship’s medical facilities. If you are shore side, visit the nearest emergency room or hospital.
  • You have the right to a sexual assault forensic exam to collect DNA evidence that may help prosecute the perpetrator. If you wish to have an exam performed, try to avoid showering, changing your clothes, or cleaning the area where the assault occurred.
  • If you are outside the U.S., you can find support from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you’re visiting. Consular officers are available for emergency assistance 24/7. They can connect you with a variety of resources to help, wherever you are. They do not provide direct legal counsel.
    • From the U.S. & Canada: 1.888.407.4747
    • From overseas: +1 202.501.444
  • You can report the crime to the FBI. If you are on board the ship when the crime occurs, contact the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard about the crime to receive advice on how to proceed. You can reach the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC at 202.324.3000.
  • You can report the crime to the Department of Transportation. You can file an incident report of criminal activity to the Department of Transportation and review past cruise line incident reports online. 
  • You can report the crime on board. If the crime occurred on board the ship, you can report the incident to a cruise ship security officer as soon as possible. You have the right to insist that the scene of the crime be secured until law enforcement officials arrive. It may be helpful to write down the names and contact information of any individuals, both crew members and passengers, who witnessed or were involved in the incident.
  • You are not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at
Legal Disclaimer
The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. The information is not presented as a source of legal advice. You should not rely, for legal advice, on statements or representations made within the website or by any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent, independent attorney. RAINN does not assume any responsibility for actions or non-actions taken by people who have visited this site, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed.

Related Content

Safety Tips for Traveling

Whether you travel often or you’re getting ready for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, it’s important to think about safety as part of your travel preparations. 

Read More

Airport Security for Survivors

Airport security can be stressful for any traveler, but for some survivors of sexual assault the security screening process is a little more sensitive.

Read More

Your Role in Preventing Sexual Assault

Whether it’s giving someone a safe ride home from a party or diverting a person who is engaging in uncomfortable behavior, anyone can help prevent sexual violence.

Read More

What are the warning signs for child sexual abuse?

Read More

Every 68 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted.

More Stats

More than 87 cents of every $1 goes to helping survivors and preventing sexual violence.

Donate Now