Violence occurs in every country around the world, regardless of political affiliation, economic prosperity, or culture. Societal attitudes toward sexual assault can vary greatly from country to country and the support you receive from local law officials can be surprisingly inadequate. Knowing who to call and what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted in another country can make a big difference in your pursuit of justice and the eventual outcome.
What to Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted in Another Country
Seek medical attention. No matter where in the world you are, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, getting a medical exam should be one of the first steps. Even if you have no intention of speaking with local authorities, visit a hospital. Avoid changing your clothes, showering, bathing, brushing your teeth, using the restroom, combing your hair, or washing your hands to preserve evidence. Not every medical professional will have experience with the medical forensic examination known as “a rape kit,” but access is increasing in far-flung places like India and South Africa. Forensic evidence can be extremely compelling in a sexual assault case. Be sure to take photographic evidence and keep a copy of all documents for your records.
Contact Pathways to Safety International. This US-based group helps provide support for medical, emotional, and legal needs. The group works to provide you with transportation to your hotel or the US Embassy, information on a reputable hospital, access to a mental health counselor, and an English-speaking lawyer. They will let you know if it’s safe to report the assault to the police, the American Embassy, or a lawyer. In 2016, they helped some 415 sexually assaulted women in 41 countries.
Contact the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. The State Department is designed to assist U.S. citizens who become victims of crime while abroad. They can help connect you with local and US-based resources. They may assist in reaching out to loved ones, finding appropriate medical care, exploring financial assistance options in getting back home, replacing a lost or stolen passport, and finding English-speaking lawyers. The State Department does not investigate crimes directly, act as a legal advocate in court, serve as a translator, or pay expenses for you.
Apply for financial assistance through the It Happened to Alexa Foundation. This organization facilitates the prosecution of sex offenders by providing financial and emotional support and advocacy assistance during trial proceedings. It’s not uncommon for trials to require a handful of trips, no matter how far you live from the location of the proceedings. Residents of California may also apply to the California Victim Compensation Board for financial assistance.
Contact RAINN to learn more about counseling when you return home. Chatting with a support specialist from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) provides you with free, confidential, anonymous, 24/7 emotional support and helps you take the next step toward healing and recovery.
Reach out to a sexual assault attorney. An experienced attorney can help you recover any losses suffered as a result of the sexual assault. Having your case fought in civil court by a passionate attorney will help you obtain the justice you deserve.
Do U.S. Laws Apply to Sexual Assault in Another Country?
If you are a U.S. citizen and the assault took place in a foreign country, you may be wondering which country’s laws apply. There has been some discussion about extending Title IX law to students who study abroad. But, for the most part, local laws will apply to your case. If the sexual assault overseas involves an American-based third party, there may be a legal angle to apply U.S. law to your circumstances.
Regardless, there are basic international laws of human decency that transcend all borders. The International Committee of the Red Cross states: “Rape, and other forms of sexual violence that amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law, entail individual criminal responsibility and must be prosecuted. All States are obliged to criminalize these violations under domestic law, and to effectively investigate and prosecute any instance of sexual violence.”
Can Legal Action Be Taken Against a Cruise Ship Operator?
Sexual assault abroad is a huge issue on cruise ships. Out of the 92 alleged cruise ship crimes in 2016, there were 62 reported sexual assaults—a third of the assaults involving minors, according to NBC News. When abuse occurs at sea, it is up to cruise company security to take immediate care of the victim and file the report if desired.
Jurisdiction could be a mix of federal, local, and foreign laws. For example:
- If the victim or perpetrator is an American national and the ship sails from or to a U.S. port, then the FBI may have jurisdiction.
- If the vessel is located outside the U.S., the perpetrator is a foreign national, and the points of embarkation or debarkation are located in other countries, then different laws may apply.
- Since the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, cruise passengers have the right to:
- A security guide outlining criminal law procedures and U.S. embassy/consulate locations.
- A sexual assault forensic exam taken on board in the immediate aftermath.
- Confidentiality and support services, including medical staff and counselors.
- Contact the FBI, U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of Transportation for advice.
Strict liability can be imposed when an on-duty cruise ship crew member sexually assaults a passenger, or when sexual activity involves a minor under 16 years of age. Cruise ship operators may be deemed liable if they give out a room key to unauthorized personnel, over-served alcohol, or ignored other problematic activities from the individual without reprimand.
Can Legal Action Be Taken Against a Resort?
In October 2017, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of an East Bay doctor and mother of two after she was sexually assaulted by a waiter at a luxury resort in Cabo San Lucas. The lawsuit contends that the resort’s California-based parent company was negligent in hiring a waiter whose Facebook account showed clearly deviant material. The suit also included charges of fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising after the company tried to dodge liability by claiming it didn’t actually own or operate the property in Cabo, despite claims on its website and marketing materials.
Generally, in other countries, sexual assaults by employees are held to be outside the scope of employment. In one account, a woman from Indiana was assaulted by three Cuban National soccer players while staying at a Jamaican resort. Despite the rape kit, the police lineup identification, the local police report, hotel staff security surveillance, and U.S. Embassy intervention, the lawsuit filed against the Cuban government was unsuccessful. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the soccer players “weren’t acting within the scope of their employment as Cuban athletes when they attacked her.” In most cases, an employer can be held liable for the actions of its employees when the attack occurs within employer-authorized time and space.
An employer can be held accountable for:
- negligent hiring: when they knew or should have known an employee was unfit for duty
- negligent retention: when they failed to train, remediate, or fire unfit workers
- negligent supervision: when they failed to supervise and evaluate employees for safety
Other Laws That May Apply When It Comes to Child Sex Crimes Abroad
Federal Law allows for extraterritorial jurisdiction over sex offenses against minors under 18:
- 18 U.S.C. § 2423(d): Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct
- 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c): Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places
- 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(c) and 2260(a): Production of Child Pornography outside the United States
- 18 U.S.C. § 1591: Sex Trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion
In these instances, the United States has the legal authority to prosecute criminal conduct that took place outside its borders.
Seeking Justice After Sexual Assault in Another Country
When police reports, meetings with the Embassy, and criminal proceedings don’t turn out the way you expected, an experienced sexual assault attorney can help. Regardless of what happens in criminal court, working with a civil lawyer can help you explore what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted in another country.
The California attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn have the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.