Woman Says She Was Raped on Cruise Ship, Then Contracted HIV

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

A woman claims she was raped by, and contracted HIV from, an art gallery employee aboard the Sky Princess cruise ship operated by Princess Cruises cruise line in January 2022.

A lawsuit filed by the woman on Tuesday alleges that her attacker was at the time working for Park West Gallery, a suite of gallery spaces on a range of cruise ships owned and operated by the company that touts itself as “the world’s largest art dealer.”

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According to the suit, the plaintiff, a woman in her late twenties named pseudonymously as Jane Doe, was aboard the cruise liner and walking by a Park West art gallery when she was approached by the alleged assailant, whose first name, according to the suit, is believed to be Aleksander; the suit says the alleged assailant shared details about his experience with gallery and invited the plaintiff to participate in a scheduled art auction in the coming days.

Jane Doe spent much of the same day consuming alcohol aboard the cruise, and later in the evening, while visibly intoxicated, she was approached by the same person, who asked for her name and cabin number, the lawsuit states.

After drinking more alcoholic beverages in her cabin, the lawsuit states that the plaintiff received a call from the alleged assailant, who invited her back to the art gallery. Once there, the suit says, he plied her with more alcohol, brushed his hand against her legs and grabbed her buttocks, causing her to freeze in fear; he then began to escort her up a flight of stairs, leading the plaintiff to believe she was being led back to her room to rest.

Instead, the suit states, she was shoved into a closet by the assailant, who raped her. Despite being too intoxicated to fight him off, the plaintiff repeatedly said no according to the lawsuit; days later, after experiencing abnormal symptoms, she went to get tested by medical professionals and was diagnosed with HIV in February of 2022. “Plaintiff did not have any type of sexual contact with another person since early 2020,” thereby confirming that the rape led to plaintiff’s HIV diagnosis, the suit states.

“I think she’s doing OK under the circumstances,” Michael Winkleman, the plaintiff’s attorney and a maritime lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, told The Daily Beast. “She was 27 at the time of the cruise, she had basically just finished school. She’s in the medical field, and she was really just getting her life started. For her to have this horrific incident in and of itself was terrible, but then to have the added element of the HIV—it’s any person’s worst nightmare.”

Winkleman told The Daily Beast that he’ll be pursuing the maximum compensation available for his client.

“Princess Cruises does not comment on pending litigation,” the company told The Daily Beast in a statement.

While Park West Gallery also has locations on land, the company operates outposts on over 90 luxury cruise vessels run by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and others, according to their website. Cruise guests can participate in Park West auctions hosted live by auctioneers, and potentially take home paintings and limited-edition pieces by the likes of Picasso and Rembrandt or contemporary pop artists like Romero Britto and Peter Max.

“This Complaint for Damages has just been filed,” Paul Schwiep, longtime outside counsel for Park West Galleries, told The Daily Beast in a statement. “The nature of the acts alleged in this Complaint warrant a very serious examination of the facts that separates the facts from fiction. At this time, no evidence has been provided to support the Complaint’s allegations, and no notice of this alleged incident was provided to us, the cruise line, or law enforcement, even though the incident allegedly occurred one year ago.”

“In the company’s 25 years of operating on cruise ships, there’s never been an allegation that any Park West auctioneer ever acted inappropriately sexually with any guest or passenger or anyone else,” Schwiep added in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Having now seen this complaint, we’re in the early stages of conducting what will be a very thorough and searching investigation of what’s been alleged.”

Auctioneers and gallery attendants working for Park West galleries on board cruises are not employed directly by Princess Cruise lines, but rather are independent contractors leased to Park West by Caribbean Staffing Solutions LLC. Formed in 2018, CSS was dissolved by the North Carolina Secretary of State in February of 2020.

Reports of sexual assault committed on cruise liners by both onboard employees and cruise guests is a pervasive issue in the industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has kept a record of cruise line incident reports since 2010, when Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which mandates that any reports of criminal activity on cruise liners be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the DOT, allegations of sexual assault on cruise ships either leaving from or returning to the United States leapt 67 percent when compared with the same period in 2018 between July and September of 2019, the Washington Post reported at the time.

From April 1 to June 30 of 2022, three alleged instances of sexual assault on Princess Cruise vessels were reported to the Department of Transportation. Ten alleged incidents of sexual assault were reported on Royal Caribbean vessels were reported within the same time period, while nine alleged instances of sexual assault were reported by Carnival Cruise Lines.

“It’s our opinion that rapes and sexual assaults on cruise ships are a hidden epidemic, and that if the general public really knew how often these types of crimes occurred, they would do more to keep themselves safe and keep their family safe,” Winkleman told The Daily Beast.

What’s more, in terms of sexual assault that takes place on cruises, “more often than not, perpetrators are not convicted,” Winkleman said. “We often see that when a crew member is accused of rape or sexual assault, they are often just sent home to their home country to thereby avoid any prosecution by the United States.”

Due to sustained distress and mental health issues stemming from the alleged rape, the plaintiff in the new lawsuit was too traumatized to be able to report the incident to Princess Cruise Lines and Park West Galleries until November of 2022, the suit states.

“My client’s been in a state of shock, really, since the rape,” Winkleman told The Daily Beast.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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