Gerson said that one of his clients was a 15-year-old girl with Asperger syndrome who was raped by a juvenile and an adult while on a holiday cruise in the Caribbean. Her mother believed that teen activities would be supervised by cruise staff as suggested by promotional material, he said. There were not enough security personnel on the ship, he said, putting the teenager at risk.
"If you think that young women are safe on cruise ships, think again. They're not," he said.
Another witness, Kim Ware of Houston, said she was a passenger on the Carnival Triumph in 2013 when it lost power in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire that disabled basic systems including water and sewage. She described how feces in red biohazard bags lined the hallway, a "tent city" appearing on the deck to shield passengers from the sun, and sewage coming up through the shower drains.
Ware said she was scared that fights would break out on the ship as food hording became common and the stench became worse. There was little to no direction from staff, she said.
"It was soon very clear that Carnival Cruise Lines had no plan in place for such a disaster," she said. "They were essentially winging it."
Committee members said cruises need to make it clear to passengers before they buy their tickets what rights they have onboard and what rights they are giving up. They also need to make more clear how safe cruises actually are, they said.
Last August, major cruise liners began voluntarily posting crime data online amid pressure from Congress and victims for more transparency. But the panelists and committee members said it wasn't enough.