Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Congress Passes Legislation to Expand Rights of Victims Sexually Assaulted on Cruise Ships

Legislation Requires Passenger Access to the National Sexual Assault Hotlines
July 1, 2010 – (Washington, DC) – Cruise passengers are one step closer to enjoying a safe vacation, thanks to Congressional passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. The bill, introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), requires safety measures for Americans at sea and provides protections for those sexually assaulted on board. It also mandates that cruise lines provide victims with “free and immediate access” to the National Sexual Assault Hotline and Online Hotline, both operated by RAINN. The president is expected to sign the bill shortly.

According to Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, “Safety protections in this bill will significantly reduce passengers’ risk of sexual assault, and expand the rights of those sexually assaulted on board. By connecting cruise passengers with the support services available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline and Online Hotline, this legislation provides a vital lifeline for victims on cruise ships.” Berkowitz added, “We are thankful to Rep. Matsui and Sen. Kerry for their leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with the cruise industry to ensure that passengers in need receive the help that they deserve.”

Each year more than 10 million Americans take cruises, often unaware of the possible dangers on board. According to the FBI, sexual assault is the leading crime reported on the high seas. This legislation requires that cruise ships provide passengers with free, immediate, and confidential access to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) and Online Hotline (online.rainn.org). The hotlines, which have helped more than 1.4 million victims of sexual violence, both provide 24/7 support to those in need.

Other provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act require cruise ships to address the immediate medical needs of a victim by providing anti-retroviral medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, as well as give victims access to sexual assault forensic exams (commonly known as “rape kits”) to ensure that all forensic evidence is properly preserved. Ships will also be required to have a U.S. licensed medical practitioner on board at all times to perform the necessary medical examinations and administer treatment. Additional provisions of the legislation require that cruise ships equip all staterooms and crew cabins with peep holes and security latches to further enhance safety.

According to Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), “Implementation of H.R. 3360 is critical to providing the security and safety measures that all Americans need and deserve. I would like to especially thank RAINN for their tireless advocacy on behalf of this legislation, and other key measures that will help prevent sexual assault events from happening - and providing the support victims need if and when it does.”

“As a former prosecutor and advocate for sexual assault victims, I was proud to work with RAINN to ensure that no one forfeits their right to be protected when they board a cruise ship,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). “I applaud my colleagues for helping to ensure that security, safety, and accountability are strengthened, criminals are held accountable, and the cycle of serious crimes on these vessels comes to an end.”

Kendall Carver, the chairman of International Cruise Victims and the driving force behind the legislation, said: “The approval of this legislation represents an historic step towards securing for all passengers the safety and security they need and deserve.” He added that it is “proof to the world that our small group of volunteers with limited funds has been able to make a difference in the safety of Americans. When the Cruise Safety legislation is signed into law, it will serve to protect Americans across the nation during what ought to be relaxing vacations.” He also thanked RAINN for the “major efforts they made to support our efforts in passing this major legislation.

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