May 23, 2013 | By Dori Saltzman | Comments Off
The sexual assault of an 11-year old Brazilian girl last August aboard Disney Dream has ignited a firestorm over how and when cruise lines report such incidents and what should happen to the perpetrators, even when victims or their guardians decline to press charges.
The incident, which occurred August 2012, involved a dining room waiter inappropriately touching and kissing the girl on an elevator while Disney Dream was docked in Port Canaveral. Video of the assault was aired by Florida TV station WKMG Local 6. Shortly thereafter the girl and her grandmother reported the assault to passenger services, and the cruise line began an investigation; again, before the ship had left Port Canaveral.
A day later, as the ship sailed toward the Bahamas Disney contacted the Port Canaveral police, the Royal Bahamian police, the Coast Guard and the FBI. As soon as the ship arrived in the Bahamas, the Bahamian police opened an investigation and got a confession from the waiter. But the girl’s grandmother decided not to pursue charges and no arrest was made.
Disney terminated the man’s employment (though a Disney spokeswoman would only say he is no longer employed by Disney, the implication was clear) and he was flown back to India. Per industry contract standards, when a crew member leaves the employment of a cruise line, the line is required to fly that person back to their home country so as not to strand them.
When contacted by Cruise Critic, Disney released the following statement: “We take matters of this nature very seriously as the safety and security of our guests is our top priority. We notified all of the authorities, including the Port Canaveral Police, the Royal Bahamian Police Force, the Coast Guard and the FBI. When we arrived in Nassau, the Royal Bahamian Police Force came aboard the ship for an investigation. Ultimately, the family chose not to take further action.”
That the crime occurred is not in question. What is in question is when the cruise line should have reported the crime and what should have been done with the perpetrator.
According to the Local 6 investigation, Disney Cruise Line said it didn’t realize a crime had actually been committed until after the ship left port. But documents obtained by the news program show at least some employees onboard the ship were aware of “inappropriate sexual conduct,” had viewed the video evidence and obtained the identity of the waiter before the ship left port.
It seems clear that if the cruise line had indeed gotten that far in the investigation, it should have contacted the Port Canaveral police at that point, but based on the timeline given by Local 6 it is possible the captain of the ship, who has the final say on when to sail, didn’t know a crime had occurred at the time the ship pulled out of dock. Video of the incident was reviewed around 4 p.m., and the waiter identified by a dining manager at 4:48 p.m. The ship departed at 5:02 p.m. The waiter wasn’t called to the security office until 7:50 p.m.
The question, therefore, is should the police have been notified at some point during this initial investigation and should the ship have returned to port?
The man denied the assault during the first questioning and denied it again the next day when security questioned him again. It wasn’t until Bahamian police questioned him that he confessed. Before his confession, the evidence included the girl’s report and a video that doesn’t show the actual attack, though elements of it can be clearly inferred.
With the crime confirmed, the question arises, what should have been done with the man?
In Florida, such an attack is classified as a lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under 12, a felony punishable by 25 years to life in prison, according to the Local 6 report. Prosecution is determined by the local authorities, not whether the victim’s family chooses to press charges. While the Bahamian police decided not to arrest the man, based on the wishes of the family, Port Canaveral police could have done so had the ship returned to Florida with the waiter onboard.
But the cruise line chose to offload him sooner rather than later.
Cruise Critic reached out to Disney Cruise Line for more information on why authorities weren’t notified sooner and why the line chose to offload the crew member rather than keep him detained onboard until Disney Dream returned to Port Canaveral. Disney declined further comment, repeating its initial statement.