Sexual Assault And The Jones Act – What Are The Victim’s Rights?

John Konrad
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November 4, 2018


With the increase in public discussions on sexual abuse aboard ships we sat down with Steve Gordon, of Gordon Elias Seely, a Jones Act lawyer with experience representing victims of sexual assault, to ask him questions about this thorny topic.  

You have seen an increase in the recent number of legal inquiries from rape victims, is this due in part to the #metoo movement?

Absolutely. Sexual abuse, sexual discrimination and even sexual attacks have been noticed in the last 30 years when women entered the maritime work force. However, the reporting of claims has significantly increased in the last 5 years.

Can rape victims aboard American ships sue in federal court?

Yes but…Not only in Federal Court, but Admiralty law allows the employee to choose either a state court or a federal court to prosecute their action.

What about rape victims aboard smaller vessels like ferries and commercial fishing boats?

The Jones Act employer owes a duty to provide a safe work place. It does not matter the type or size of vessel or crew. As long as it is a vessel engaged in a commercial maritime industry and the injured person is in the course and scope of employment, a claim exists when the sexual abuse occurs.

What proof does a rape victim need?

It should be reported as soon as possible. If there are physical bruises, pictures should be taken; tell another crew member you trust what happened; if it’s in port, call the local police; if it’s at sea and it involves the Master/Captain, try to call the Coast Guard with your cell phone and alert them of your location, vessel name and what happened and make sure to tell them the Captain was the perpetrator; if you are at shore or will be at shore soon, go to a hospital and have a rape kit utilized.

What are the statutes of limitations for rape victims?

Three years from the last event.

Is there a legal distinction between rape and attempted rape aboard American ships?

From the Jones act perspective, not really. The law requires some physical “injury” but that can amount to a serious touching. Obviously, a full rape is more serious but both can have lasting impacts to the victim

How can a friend or family member help a victim who wants to seek legal help?

Fear of coming forward is usually more present when a sexual attack happens in the workplace as opposed to a dating situation. The fear of economics always plays a factor in suppressing reportage. The friend or family member can be supportive an can actually reach out to a lawyer as a conduit if the person wishes to, at first, remain confidential.

What are my options if I think someone aboard ship gave me Rohypnol?

The usage of a drug to allow a perpetrator to act with ease is even more offensive but, in essence, the same structures apply. Consent cannot be granted when under the influence of some drug that was surreptitiously given.

Steve Gordon is a renowned Maritime lawyer for US mariners and offshore employees who have been hurt on the job. If you or someone close to you has been assaulted offshore or aboard an US FLagged boat or ship then please contact Steve Gordon at 1-800-773-6770 or [email protected].


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