Cruising With Danger?

In February 2006, Laurie Dishman, 36, of Sacramento, Calif., and her best friend decided to celebrate 30 years of friendship by relaxing aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. However, Dishman's vacation came to a sudden end when, as she alleges, a cruise line employee raped her.

"I had gone to sleep and there was a knock at the door and the security guard forced his way, no peephole, no way for me to look," Dishman told ABC News. "I opened the door and instantly he forced his way in, pushing me back toward the bed and he raped me."

The Testimony

Dishman's case, in which Royal Caribbean disputes some of the facts, was one of the horror stories lawmakers heard Tuesday. Along with others, Dishman testified in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington, D.C., about crime aboard cruise ships.

"Imagine having to stay in a place you have been raped and writing what had happened," she told the panel. "I did not feel safe, and these people continued to make me feel pressure in getting things in writing."

"I felt raped again when the doctor gave [a friend] and I two garbage bags and told us to go back to the cabin and collect the evidence," said Dishman. "I have never heard something like this [in] which the victim continues to be revictimized over and over with nowhere to go, stuck in the middle of the ocean."

Royal Caribbean reported the incident to the FBI, which never arrested or charged anyone for the alleged crime. Dishman was told she could either file a civil lawsuit or go to Congress.

She did both.

The Response

Congress also heard testimony from law enforcement and the cruise industry, including Gary Bald, the chief security officer for Royal Caribbean cruises. For the first time, he publicly addressed what happened to Dishman.

"I want to make one fact very clear to this subcommittee," said Bald. "As soon as Ms. Dishman reported her allegation, our ship's personnel took immediate action. We immediately offered medical assistance to Ms. Dishman, and we promptly notified the FBI and provided it with all the information that they requested."

The cruise industry also told the subcommittee it has a very strong safety record.

"The cruise industry has a zero tolerance for crime," said Terry Dale, president and CEO of Cruise Line International Association. "Our industry takes all allegations and incidence of crime onboard seriously and reports them to the proper authorities. [Even] one incident is one incident too many that occurs on the passenger vessel."

But it's difficult to know exactly how much crime happens aboard a cruise ship, because most fly under foreign flags. That means they're not under United States jurisdiction, so they don't have to report any crime that happens 12 miles outside U.S. waters. However, the cruise industry says it voluntarily reports any major crime to American authorities.

Over a three-year period, from 2003 to 2005, when 31 million North Americans sailed on cruise ships, the industry says there were 178 complaints of sexual assault, 24 missing persons and four robberies.

Critics, however, argue that the numbers are much higher.

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