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Sexual assault on holiday: advice for survivors from personal injury lawyers

Caitlin Wood and Clare Campbell of Leigh Day’s personal injury team are acting for a number of claimants in cases concerning sexual assaults while on holiday. Here they provide guidance on pursuing related claims, and provide practical advice to those affected. 

Posted on 14 March 2024

In this blog we will highlight options for English nationals who are subject to sexual assault in touristic/hotel properties abroad, and the civil claim they can bring in their home Court of England and Wales. 
Sexual assault is an exceptionally traumatic experience, and when it occurs abroad it can lead to an even greater sense of vulnerability and distress. Even when sexual assault occurs in your home country there are fears of mistreatment by authorities, peers, and our judicial system. This is complicated when navigating a traumatic event in a foreign country, when you are unsure of the approach the local authorities may take to your complaint.    
When a crime is reported, usually criminal proceedings will be brought by the state against the offender. In sexual assault cases, the chances of conviction are exceptionally poor, and this is a pattern in most countries across the world. This unfortunately discourages victims from engaging in the criminal process. There is an understandable reluctance to relive an event and have your account of events scrutinised and placed under a microscope.  
Criminal proceedings are distinct from a civil claim. In a criminal case, the remedy or "punishment" is directly to the offender and would result in imprisonment, or fine, or signing criminal register if found guilty. Given the significance of a finding of criminal guilt, you must prove that the assault occurred beyond reasonable doubt, which is a much higher standard than in a civil case.  
In contrast, in a civil case you must prove that the assault is more likely to have happened than not, which is a lower burden of proof. The outcome of a successful civil action is receiving a financial settlement from the Defendant, and you are holding someone responsible for their negligence which resulted in your harm.  
We can assist you where you have been sexually assaulted on a package holiday, during a contractual arrangement (i.e. accommodation booking, excursion etc) with an English Defendant, or where an English Defendant (i.e. a tour operator, a tour guide) has been negligent, and this has given rise to the sexual assault.  
The Supreme Court gave their judgment in 2021, in a case that concerned an English Claimant suffering sexual assault on a package holiday provided by the Defendant (X v Kuoni Travel Limited [2021] UKSC 34). The first instance decision was appealed twice, and was of interest to legal practitioners as it was to determine the scope that a tour operator could be liable (or least, considered to have improperly performed the package contract) due to the negligence of an employee of their supplier.  
In this case, the action was brought against the tour operator for a sexual assault committed by an electrician employed by the Hotel.  The Court quite rightly found that any deliberate acts of a hotel employee constituted an improper performance of the tour operator’s obligations under the package contract, and that a ‘broad view’ should be taken of the obligations owed by tour operators, to include obligations in relation to a range of services necessary for the provision of a holiday of a reasonable standard.  
This is particularly helpful in cases where the sexual assault has been committed by an employee of a hotel, or an individual who has been permitted to be in the Hotel grounds and providing a service to the Hotel and/or tour operator. Another benefit of this legal action was the attention it brought to sexual assault cases under the package travel regulations, and it arguably set a higher expectation for tour operators to ensure they are not selling package holidays to consumers to hotels where they may put holidaymakers at risk of a sexual assault.  
The reality is sexual assaults abroad, and in a hotel setting, are a common occurrence. People go on holiday to relax and let their guard down, and offenders take advantage of this. It’s unfortunate that a holiday setting can provide an opportunity for sexual offenders, and it is totally unacceptable. Tour operators need to be aware of the prevalence of these assaults to force them to take action to prevent them happening to people in the future.  
We can help by bringing a civil claim in the English Court for damages. A civil claim cannot influence any criminal proceedings, and it cannot force an apology from the offender or the Hotel/tour operator. What it does do is pressure tour operators to have higher standards when vetting the package holidays that they sell to consumers. This can be particularly influential in countries that rely on tourism for their economy. By setting a standard of acceptable behaviour, and forcing tour operators to impose stricter sanctions on hotels that don’t abide, bringing a civil claim can ensure that in the long-term fewer holidaymakers will be exposed to a sexual assault on holiday.  
Here are some practical steps a person can take if they experience sexual assault on holiday:      

  1. Get yourself to safety and find your travelling group, or a group that you trust.  
  2. Report to the hotel if it is safe to do so, and ask that they contact the Police, and arrange for you to attend a local medical centre or hospital.
  3. Contact the authorities directly if the Hotel is unwilling to assist. The British Embassy in that country can offer assistance.  
  4. Seek medical help, and keep any medical documents after your discharge from medical centre or hospital.
  5. Engage in criminal proceedings as much as possible while still in the country, such as giving statements to the Police.
  6. Obtain a victim liaison contact to keep in touch about the criminal proceedings when you return to the UK. 
  7. Contact a UK solicitor to discuss your options with a civil claim. 

If you have been sexually assaulted on holiday, please get in touch with Caitlin Wood at 0161 393 3604 or cwood@leighday.co.uk   

Caitlin Wood
Travel claims

Caitlin Wood

Caitlin is an associate in the personal injury department

Clare Campbell
Cycling Road traffic collisions Spinal injury Travel claims

Clare Campbell

Clare advises on travel injury compensation claims

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