Former Ship Security Officer Tells How Crimes Get 'Lost at Sea'

April 14, 2006 — -- Hard as it is to share what it's like to be the victim of a sexual assault, several women have come forward to testify before Congress about their assaults aboard cruise ships.

"Primetime" investigated sexual assaults at sea, and found case after case filed by "Jane Doe" -- anonymous victims -- almost all of them settled under terms of confidentiality.

Critics said that is one tactic the cruise industry uses to keep crime out of the spotlight.

"I believe there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of victims that have never come forward. I believe that with my whole soul," said Maralyn Decker, whose daughter, Jamie, said she was assaulted on a cruise ship.

A former ship security officer agrees, and for the first time, he told "Primetime" how crimes get "lost at sea."

'I'd Never Even Been Kissed'

Jamie refused to become another silent "Jane Doe." Now 19, she grew up in the peaceful surroundings of Anchorage, Alaska. Several years ago, her parents capped off a cross-country trip with a weeklong vacation on the Carnival cruise ship Sensation.

Jamie was excited to be on her first cruise and signed up for the teen activity group. "I was 12, but I didn't want to hang out with the little kids, really, and I was just kind of at the age where I wanted to be older and hang out with older kids," she said.

On the fifth day, the cruise ship pulled into port at Cozumel, Mexico. Jamie joined the teen group for a swim and was looking forward to a Ping-Pong tournament after lunch.

Jamie said she got out of the pool and headed back to her cabin to take a shower. When she was riding the elevator, she said a man approached her.

"He had a tag with the logo of the cruise on it. He had his name on it. I mean, there was, he was a crew member," Jamie said.

"Well, first, he just got in the elevator, and he asked me if I was having fun and if everything was OK," Jamie told "Primetime." "And then he asked me if I wanted to go see where the dolphins played, where the crew members got to see where the dolphins played and that's where it all kind of started."

At the time Jamie said she simply thought the crew member was offering her a special treat. "First of all, I was 12. I loved dolphins," she said. "And second of all, I was gonna get to go to a place where nobody else could go, so I was special."

She said the crew member then gave her directions to meet him in a remote area of the ship. He showed up moments after she arrived. Jamie said he took her to a room and showed her a porthole where she could see the dolphins.

But then, she said, he started to make her uncomfortable.

"And he said, 'Oh, you have strong shoulders and a strong back,'" Jamie recalled. "I didn't know how to react. I was kind of freaked out. I never had a man come on to me before and I certainly didn't know how to handle it.

"Yeah, at this point, I'd never even kissed a boy. It never even crossed my mind that he was planning to rape me."

Jamie said the man stayed between her and the door at all times -- there was no way to escape. She said the man started to kiss her, and she began screaming and trying to fight him off.

"And then I think he just got fed up with me fighting and he just took my dress off," Jamie said. "He said, 'Lay down.' I stopped fighting him. I stopped screaming. It was funny to him. Nobody could hear me and he knew it. Um, he could do whatever he wanted and nobody would know."

There on that cold steel floor Jamie said the crew member brutally raped her.

"It was silent tears at this point," she said. "It was where I had nothing left to scream. I had nothing left to really give. It was just, you know, I had no facial expression. It was just blank stare."

Victimized a Second Time, She Said

After the assault, Jamie said the man finished with a threat. "He told me that if I were to ever tell anybody that he would kill me and then go after my family."

Jamie said she believed him. "At that point, I started to tell myself this hadn't happened," she said. "This isn't really as bad as it looks. Um, then I walked to my cabin, and threw my bathing suit and my dress just overboard. It was gone."

Jamie tried to pull herself together, and she returned to the teen group. But she couldn't hide her distress; she quickly broke down, crying hysterically. She was brought to security.

Jamie said she told security what happened, but she left out the part about being raped. Instead she told security she had been touched inappropriately. But she said the security staff didn't believe her.

"And they just thought that I was freaking out because I was scared," Jamie said. "They said I was lying. They said I was making it up."

Critics say that is typical behavior: a cruise line trying to downplay an incident so that it doesn't get investigated and then reported as a crime.

When crime strikes on a cruise ship, many of the victims describe a second blow -- the response of the cruise line staff.

"They weren't after him. They had no interest in bringing any attention to the crew members," Jamie said.

"And then somebody said, 'Well, let's just have her take, you know, show us where she was,'" explained her mother, Maralyn. "She can't possibly do that, so let's just give her a little rope to hang herself."

But somehow, the little girl was up to the challenge, and she led them back to the place where she said the assault happened.

But Jamie said when security later brought men in for a lineup, she became intimidated while trying to make an identification.

"The head of security said to me, 'Whichever man you choose, you will ruin the rest of his life. You are ruining the rest of his life,'" she said. "Never once did I feel like they were on our side."

But Jamie didn't see the man in the lineup. She did, however, know his name from the tag on his shirt, but she was too terrified then to tell anyone. And she is still haunted by it.

"To this day I know his name and I won't say his name," she said.

Three years would pass before Jamie revealed the rape to her parents. They reported it to the FBI, and they said, in an effort to hold Carnival accountable, filed a lawsuit. The Deckers eventually settled with the cruise line.

Carnival Cruise Lines declined "Primetime's" request for an on-camera interview regarding Jamie Decker's allegations. In a letter, Carnival said that in light of the fact that "no allegation of a sexual assault was ever made" until a lawsuit was filed three years later, the company "believes that the matter was fully investigated and properly handled."

'You're Being Targeted'

Randy Jacques, a former police investigator and military man, spent seven years as a ship security officer onboard four major cruise lines. He said that crime is definitely a risk aboard cruise ships.

"You're being targeted the minute you come onboard," said Jacques.

Jacques said some crew members and passengers are on the lookout for possible victims of robbery and sexual assault.

"I've had to disarm crew members with fire axes. I've had to stop fights involving five and six passengers and was injured myself," he said.

Jaques is now director of security at a small Nevada casino and runs Maritime Investigations International. For the first time, he gave "Primetime" an insider's account of how crime can get lost at sea.

"You can't imagine the abnormal things that happen out there on a weekly basis," Jacques said.

But cruise industry consultants painted a different picture last month before a congressional subcommittee.

Larry Kaye, a maritime attorney, testified: "Cruise ships are remarkably safe. Out of the more than 31 million passengers carried over the past three years, passengers and crew I should say, there were 178 total claims of sexual assaults, 24 missing persons, excluding the five rescued or found, and four robberies."

Jacques said those numbers are completely made up by people who do the job he used to do.

Jacques said there is the question of potential predators being onboard. Jamie said hers was no random attack -- the crew member had a map of the ship with her cabin and other cabins circled. What's more troubling, she said he knew personal details that suggest he was stalking her.

"He knew about my dog. He knew about my sister's birthday coming up. He knew about my mom's middle name. I mean, just some crazy stuff that he just shouldn't know," she said.

Jacques is not surprised by this. He said for the vast majority of people, cruises are safe, but the ship can also be an ideal situation for criminals.

"It's a predator's dream, and we do have a lot of career criminals that come onboard cruise ships to do nothing but prey upon other passengers," Jacques said.

Carnival said in the more than 10 years since Randy Jacques worked for the company, it has revamped its security requirements and training procedures. But Jacques has worked for three other major cruise lines since 2001.

And according to Michael Crye, president of a trade association called the International Council of Cruise Lines, assault or robbery cases are a tiny minority of passengers' experiences.

"I think you're safer onboard a ship than you are in virtually any community in this country," Crye said.

Crye said that cruise line officials report crimes to federal agencies, and those agencies then compile the statistics.

But Jaques said during his own seven-year career as a security officer, he personally dealt with more than 50 sexual assault cases himself -- many of which cruise line management never even reported to authorities.

"They do not want to acknowledge that this woman was actually raped," Jacques said. The reaction instead, he said, is "How do we make this go away with the least amount of attention to us, as a cruise line and to our ship, our vessel and to the captain?"

Once a crime occurs, Jacques said the first call does not go to the FBI, it usually goes to the corporate office back in Miami. And he said his reports were also sent to the home office. From there, he said he had no idea what happened to them.

But Crye said cruise lines go by the book. "If there is some indication of foul play, that the evidence is preserved, the potential crime scene is secured, and officials are notified," Crye said.

As the issue now gets congressional attention, advocates are calling for independent law enforcement onboard, but victims like Jamie Decker are also looking for cruise lines to change their approach when tragedy strikes.

"They were never on my side," Jamie said. ""What would they have done if it was their own child?"