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Warning for cruise passengers as sexual assaults hit new high in 2023: FBI

The number of reported sexual assaults and rapes reached a new high in 2023, according to FBI stats, and recently filed civil lawsuits detail disturbing allegations.

The number of reported rapes and sexual assaults on cruises hit a new high in 2023, according to stats compiled by the FBI.

There were 131 reported incidents in 2023 compared to 87 in 2022 and 101 in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic crippled the industry for about two years.

But the actual number of incidents is likely much higher, experts warn. Nationally, two out of three sexual assaults go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act doesn't protect non-U.S. citizens.

Earlier this month, MSC Cruises was sued for two alleged sex crimes on separate ships. One lawsuit alleged a crew member raped a passenger, and the other accused the cruise line of failing to protect an underage girl from being molested in a bathroom. 

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MSC Cruises said in an emailed statement the company is "unable to comment on these specific ongoing legal cases.

"However, we take any allegation of assault on board our ships seriously.

"We report any allegation to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, and we assist fully with any investigation as well as ensuring appropriate action is taken."

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Jack Hickey, a Florida-based maritime lawyer who filed both legal actions, told Fox News Digital cruise companies generally do everything they can to hide crimes, especially sex crimes.

"The cruise lines are concerned about their images. It's supposed to be a vacation. It's supposed to be a positive experience," Hickey said. "They want as little about sex assaults to come to light as possible."

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act required the Department of Transportation to publish reported crime statistics on its website.

Sex crimes far outpace other reported crimes, which included 22 assaults with "serious bodily harm," two suspicious deaths and 20 thefts of $10,000 or more in 2023. 

Since 2010, there have been about 500 reported sex assaults and rapes, according to statistics reviewed by Fox News Digital.

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That number is just a fraction of the actual number, Hickey said. 

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act doesn't require cruises to report crimes against non-U.S. citizens, and there's a narrow definition of rape that cruise line management companies use to "significantly" underreport incidents to the FBI

And there's no outside agency to verify what the cruise lines are saying. 

"It's like the fox guarding the hen house," Hickey said. 

Rape on a cruise compounds trauma for survivors because they're trapped on a ship with their attacker until the next port, Hickey said. 

And even then, the survivor needs to have the resources and wherewithal to get off the vessel and fly back home, he said, and they don't know where their attacker is, especially if the attacker is an employee. 

"You feel like you're in prison," said Hickey, who filed two lawsuits in a Florida court in January against MSC Cruises. 

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One passenger on the MSC Meraviglia was allegedly raped by a crew member March 5, 2023. 

The survivor was "forcefully grabbed by the arms," and the alleged attacker "licked her face" and "aggressively threw (Jane Doe) on the bed" while she screamed, the lawsuit alleges.

She escaped after a "physical struggle," and the crew member allegedly chased her down the hallway, pushed her against a wall and "threatened that he would come back and find (Jane Doe) if she were to report him." 

The other lawsuit accused the cruise line of failing to protect a 6-year-old girl while she was in the "mini club," an area specifically designated for children up to the age of 17.

A male "of undetermined age," who was also in the care of "mini club" staff, allegedly followed the little girl into a bathroom and groped her, according to the lawsuit. 

"The inattentive and negligent employees allowed this male passenger to enter the bathroom multiple times while A.K. was alone and vulnerable," the lawsuit says.

He allegedly grabbed her private area and left the bathroom, joining a group of laughing boys, according to the lawsuit. 

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