Women's rights

Sexual assault, mostly against female passengers and staff, is the most common crime on cruise ships. A study published in 2011 revealed that incidents of sexual assault and sexual victimization are significantly higher on cruise ships than on land. The analysis of three major U.S. cruise companies revealed that perpetrators are most often male crewmembers and victims are most often female passengers. However, female cruise ship staff are also affected by sexual harassment and abuse.

The responsibility to investigate crimes committed on a cruise ship falls on the authorities of the country in which the cruise ship is registered. As these authorities often are far away from the crime scene, (inexperienced) cruise crewmembers have to carry out a first investigation, which may lead to the improper recording of information or incomplete collection of evidence. Rejected responsibilities by cruise companies and unclear responsibilities make it difficult for victims to file accusations and receive justice.

There have been reports about staff who became pregnant while working on board being sent home immediately and without adequate compensation or support.

For more information about the social costs to families of long absences by parents working on cruise ships, see the risk card on Cruise and Children’s rights.

For gender equality issues in the tourism industry, see the risk card on Tour operators and Women’s rights.

Sexual assault
Glass ceiling & sticky floor
Sexual assault

Cruising, a trip far from US Law 

Sexual assaults are the most common crimes aboard cruise ships. The video tells the case of Alessya, who is one of hundreds of victims of rape and sexual assault on cruise ships. Many of these victimes desperately seek justice, but in many cases it never arrives. Cruise companies often argue that they are not responsible for passengers’ actions.

Glass ceiling & sticky floor

Glass ceiling & sticky floor 

The expression 'sticky floor' is used to denote a discriminatory employment pattern that keeps mainly working women at the lowest levels of the occupational pyramid, with scarce mobility and invisible barriers to their professional improvement. The concept is strongly linked to that of the 'glass ceiling', although, instead of representing the difficulty in ascending to certain higher positions, these are non-existent or highly unlikely to occupy due to the very nature of the job. Preventing women's professional advancement and the improvement of their skills, abilities and working conditions, this phenomenon occurs not only due to the masculinised imposition of most managerial or senior positions in the hierarchy, but also since many of the feminised jobs have a very short professional scale or the evolution occurs in infrequent occasions. In the cruise sector, women have less access to promotion opportunities and work mainly in customer service, in the deck or the bar. Also, marines are hired mainly in medium positions, and their presence in low positions is also higher than that of men.

Taking action 300x190

Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clause on sexual assault in the Supplier Code of Conduct to be signed by cruise suppliers.

Impact assessment

  • In the context of an in-depth human rights impact assessment, consult employees, managers and clients on cruises to better understand the issues and identify measures to better protect women from sexual assault on cruise ships.

Grievance mechanism

  • Encourage cruise suppliers to install grievance mechanisms for staff and clients on board cruises.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.