Research shows people 50 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted on sea

23 Sep, 2011
Research shows people 50 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted on sea
Dr Jill Poulston has co-authored new research about cruise ships and sexual harrassment

Research co-authored by AUT University’s head of hospitality Dr Jill Poulston suggests holiday-makers, especially women, should think twice about their safety when boarding a cruise ship.


The research, completed in conjunction with Professor Ross Klein from Canada, has discovered that the rate of sex-related incidents on cruise ships is almost 50 per cent higher than the rate of sexual assault on land in Canada.

Dr Poulston, who has previously undertaken research on sexual harassment in hospitality, says cruising is becoming a popular holiday alternative, and is well suited to families because of the wide variety of pursuits on-board.

However, it is not always particularly safe.


Analysis of data from three major cruise lines, comprising more than 50 percent of the North American-based cruise industry, reveals that perpetrators are most often male crew members, victims are most often female passengers, and although assaults occur almost anywhere, most frequently they occur in passenger cabins.

The data were collated from information received from the Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines.

Dr Poulston calls the findings “chilling”.

“It is largely crew members assaulting passengers, perhaps due to the 'floating party' atmosphere of being on a cruise ship,” she says.

She also says the sexualisation of the advertising used to sell cruises, along with the idea of cruises as “romantic getaways” could be factors in the research findings.

A startling statistic for Dr Poulston was RCI receiving more than 450 sexual abuse complaints during an eight year period.

However the most recent comprehensive statistics indicate Royal Caribbean International has improved between 2003 – 05 and 2007 – 08.

The company reduced its rate of sexual assault from 111.97 per 100,000 in 2003 – 05 to 45 per 100,000 in 2007 – 08 according to Professor Klein.

“That is significant. Whether the company has continued to improve or remained the same is impossible to know because the data is neither public nor available for independent corroboration. All of our data have as their original source the cruise lines themselves.”

In an article published in the New Zealand Herald, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean International, which also owns Celebrity Cruises, said the company's highest priority was to ensure the safety and security of all its guests and crew members.

"This is always the case - whether it is a regular cruise or a chartered cruise like Rhapsody of the Seas' sailings during the Rugby World Cup in NZ."

She said the company carried more than 4.5 million guests and crew members in 2010 and reported 13 allegations of rape and 11 of sexual assault - not all of which were upheld.


Dr Poulston says there is still a lot that cruise ships can do to ensure the safety of their passengers including more security, real-time surveillance, more responsible alcohol service, and honest advice.

For the New Zealand Herald article click here

For Dr Poulston's interview on Radio New Zealand National Checkpoint click here