Cruise Ship Passenger, 15, Plied With Alcohol and Gang-raped by Dozen Men but Crew 'Did Nothing to Protect or Help Her,' Lawsuit Claims

The cruise ship operator Royal Caribbean must answer accusations that it was negligent over an incident in which a group of men allegedly plied a 15-year-old girl with alcohol before taking her to a cabin aboard one of its vessels and gang-raping her.

A district court in Florida had dismissed the girl's negligence lawsuit against Royal Caribbean over the 2015 incident for failure to state a claim, ruling that she had not sufficiently alleged the operator had breached its duty of care and proximately caused her injuries.

But that decision was reversed on Wednesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which concluded her claims were, in fact, sufficient to allege that Royal Caribbean was negligent towards her.

According to the girl's complaint, K.T., as she is referred to, was on a seven-day cruise with her two sisters and grandparents beginning the day after Christmas.

She alleges that on the first night, in full view of Royal Caribbean crew, a group of men bought multiple alcoholic beverages for her at public bars until she became "highly intoxicated," "obviously drunk, disoriented, and unstable," and "obviously incapacitated."

That group of around a dozen men then took her to a cabin where they "brutally assaulted and gang-raped her," according to K.T.'s complaint.

She alleges that everything but the rape took place in full view of crew and security cameras, yet nobody intervened to prevent the men from buying alcohol for her or leading her away to the cabin. "They allegedly did nothing to protect or help her," the appeals court opinion states.

K.T.'s complaint claims that Royal Caribbean not only should have taken action to prevent what crew could see happening in front of them, but also, given the well-documented history sexual assaults on its cruise ships, warned passengers that such dangers were present.

"In sum, the complaint has sufficiently alleged that because Royal Caribbean's crewmembers did nothing to prevent the large group of men from plying K.T. with enough alcohol to incapacitate her and did nothing to stop those men from leading her away to a private cabin, Royal Caribbean breached the duty of ordinary care it owed her," the opinion states.

"And it is self-evident from the allegations of the complaint that but for Royal Caribbean's breach of its duties of care to K.T. she would not have been brutalized and gang raped. If the allegations are true, Royal Caribbean proximately caused the alleged injuries. The complaint states a claim against Royal Caribbean."

Owen Torres, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean, told Newsweek: "We aren't able to comment on pending litigation, but we do take this allegation very seriously. The safety and security of our guests is our top priority."

Michael Winkleman, a maritime attorney with Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, handled K.T.'s appeal alongside his colleague Carol Finklehoffe.

"This is a landmark decision because the court ruled that cruise lines have a duty to warn passengers about the risk of rapes and sexual assaults on their cruise ships," he told Newsweek. "This decision shines a much-needed light on the hidden epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults on the high seas."

Winkleman also told Newsweek that, so far, the alleged perpetrators of the attack have not been brought to justice.

cruise ship royal caribbean gang rape minor
The "Empress of the Seas", a Bahamas-flagged vessel owned by Royal Caribbean, leaves from Havana, on June 5, 2019. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

This article was updated with comments by Royal Caribbean and Michael Winkleman.