In August 2009, I boarded a cruise ship with my parents, sister, and two friends. The four of us young ladies ranged in age from 15-18. My best friend and I, both 18, had been counting down to the vacation for months. This was my third cruise and all I could hope was that it would be as carefree as the past two. I never once thought I had any reason to question my safety abroad the vessel, but the very first night of the weeklong cruise was the beginning of the end.
There were a variety of things to do on the day's itinerary, but only one that appealed to us - singles night at the dance club. We went down to the ship’s dance club, which was exclusive to passengers aged 18 and up, around 11 p.m. The club wasn’t secluded by any means and security stood at the doorway and mingled around both levels of the club, so I felt I could let loose without having to worry.
Not long after we got there, though, a few rowdy men in their late twenties called us over to their table after taking our picture. They offered to buy us drinks and since my friend and I weren't old enough to buy our own, we accepted the offer. It never even occurred to us that in the short walk from the bar back downstairs to the table the men would have time to slip something in our drinks.
We drank and danced for a while and then things started to get fuzzy. My friend and I knew the men were trying to get us back to their cabin, but since we had no interest, we kept declining their overtures. After a while, my friend and I began feeling uncomfortable around the men, so we went to the bathroom to get away. We left the bathroom intending to pass on by the club and head straight to our room, but the men were sitting on the couch outside the bathroom waiting for us to leave.
They dragged us by the arms to the elevator and up to their deck. By this point, I was completely blacked out and all of these "memories" are stories I was told by my friend, who at the time was not drugged, but was heavily intoxicated. I have no doubt there were other people around the lobby area, but no one that cared enough to step forward and help.
Once we were inside the men's stateroom, they offered us more alcohol, but we repeatedly declined and kept discretely edging our way towards the door. When we finally managed to stand up to leave, one man grabbed me and pinned me to the bed while the other pushed my friend into a chair, turned off the lights, and forced her to listen to music. He had essentially prevented my friend from seeing or hearing what was happening to me, so my chance of being saved was nonexistent.
The man who had pinned me down then unzipped his pants and raped me. Despite my pleas to stop, he continued and said, "Oh c'mon, just a quickie," while the other man sat there listening and glaring in the dark, making no attempt to stop his friend. I was finally able to get my assailant off me and I screamed to my friend. I jumped up; she quickly found the light switch; and we left and never looked back.
Out in the hall by the elevators, the clock read nearly 4 a.m. I had somehow lost almost five hours of my night - a complete blur. My friend woke up my parents, who then went to security. I was forced to give a statement on the spot (even though I wasn't sober enough to know what was going on). I allowed them to take my outfit as evidence, and subjected myself to a rape kit. For anyone who hasn't had the misfortune of sitting through a rape kit, I envy you. At times it felt more violating than the rape itself.
The two men were questioned the next morning, after having time to prepare a story, and their statements were taken. Evidence was collected more than 24 hours after the actual attack occurred, giving the men plenty of time to clean up. The cruise line never took another statement from me or from my friend. They did nothing for the next six days of the cruise, where I had to see the men on the decks and hear them snicker as they walked by. They told the men not to go near me, but they didn't enforce it.
At one point, the friend of my assailant even walked by me bragging about how he "got his friend off the hook by destroying the evidence." The next time he passed me, he coughed "dirty sluts" and people in the lobby all turned to stare at me as if I were the one who had done something illegal.
Although the men harassed us for the remainder of the cruise, the staff said there was nothing they could do to stop them. Grand Cayman police handled the evidence and refused to turn over the rape kit or the results to the FBI, so I can't even prosecute. I sued the cruise line and they settled out of court to shut me up. It was hardly worth it. My lawyer was unable to retrieve the evidence from Grand Cayman because the case was considered to be theirs, even though it was aboard an American cruise line and involved American citizens. Because of their mishandling of evidence, untrained doctors, lack of security, and seemingly uninterested employees, I was raped and I can't even prosecute the man who did this to me - how is that fair? I will never be able to forget what he did to me and what the cruise line didn't do to help me. They felt they had no obligation to help me because it was passenger-on-passenger crime and didn't involve any of their employees. The worst part of it all - I was a virgin. So much for my first time being "special." Thankfully, my friend wasn’t assaulted.
It has taken me a while to be comfortable enough to share my story, but I now realize that it is the only way for me to deal with it. Whoever you are; wherever you are; no matter what the circumstances and no matter how guilty or ashamed you are feeling, if you are the victim of an assault, please know that it wasn't your fault. Even if you were drugged, drunk, sober but unwilling - no means NO! It doesn't matter what you wore, how you acted, or how much you were flirting - you have every right to change your mind!
To all those who remember their attack, try not to spend every day reliving it in fear. To those, like me, that can remember very little of their attack, try not to spend every day trying to remember it. People think we're lucky for not remembering, but it is so easy to blame yourself or convince yourself it didn't happen when you weren't aware of what was going on. You begin to feel as if you'll never know for sure if any of it was ever true.
I have a favorite quote that character Olivia Benson said on Law & Order: SVU - "I don't know which is worse, not remembering your attack or not being able to forget it." All in all, please know that just because one person hurt you, it doesn't mean all people are vengeful. You're not alone.