Florida’s theme parks and resort areas are perfect for exciting family vacations. Of course you can anticipate some inconveniences you may encounter, and you try to plan accordingly. You will budget for park admissions and overpriced food. You will try to get plenty of rest so long amusement ride lines don’t leave you exhausted and frustrated. It may be easy to plan for typical theme park-, restaurant-, and hotel-disturbances.
However, it is often difficult to strategize for the possibility of a sexual assault. Moreover, security has the responsibility to keep you safe. That should not fall on you.
As a tourist and a parent, you can anticipate some of the drawbacks of sharing a popular vacation area with thousands of people. You may also anticipate that law enforcement officers and private security personnel will keep you safe.
When it comes to the danger of sexual assault, parents in particular have many questions.
- What can I do to keep my children safe?
- How do I protect my young daughters–and my young sons–from sexual predators?
- What do we do if an assault happens in a park or a restaurant or while we’re walking near our hotel?
- If a criminal attempted to assault me, could I protect myself?
You Shouldn’t Have to Worry About Sexual Assault
Amusement parks, hotels, restaurants, and other entertainment facilities have a duty to create a safe space for you and your family. It’s their responsibility to eliminate any hazards that may harm you or a family member. At the very least, a business should screen their employees and conduct adequate background checks to keep sexual predators away from you and your family. Unfortunately, instances of sexual assault in highly public places are not uncommon.
Of the documented sexual assaults in the Orlando area, the majority of theme park assailants were low-tier employees. Whether an employee works in a bar, a hotel, or a restaurant, employers have a duty to screen their employees. In screening their employees, employers have a duty to conduct adequate criminal background checks. However, the reported instances of sexual assault revealed some offenders had a history of more than one sexual offense or conviction.
The hiring duties expected of employers are particularly critical for businesses designed to attract young children and their families. If employers are negligent in their screening of employees, they should be responsible for damages that result from employees’ criminal conduct at work.
Are Sexual Assaults Really a Problem in Florida Tourist Areas?
While sexual assaults in tourist areas may not be reported every day, they occur frequently enough to advise caution. Tourists should remain watchful and cautious of any suspicious behavior when visiting popular attractions. Although only announced occasionally on the news, there have been repeated instances of sexual assault in highly public areas. If you’re vacationing in the area for a few days, any report you see may, in reality, be one of many. Even if you live close by a resort or theme park, you won’t hear of every assault that occurs.
Many instances of assault are not well-known because:
- Some victims won’t report a sexual assault because of embarrassment or a fear of “victim-blaming.”
- Police departments don’t always prosecute sexual assault cases.
- Parents often want to protect their children from controversy.
- When amusement parks and other big businesses settle personal injury claims, they often execute confidentiality agreements. A confidentiality agreement keeps the parties involved and the amount of and reason for the settlement confidential.
- When big businesses receive an incident report, they often handle it in-house through a claim unit or risk management department. In most cases, the details of the dispute are never publicly released.
- State laws require that theme parks report injury incidents. However, the requirement only applies if the circumstances require the victim’s emergency transport to a medical facility.
Assaults in the Orlando, Florida Area
Florida law provides detailed descriptions of sexual battery, lewdness and indecent exposure, and other sexual crimes. Your family should never have to endure the impacts of sexual trauma because of the conduct of a tourist attraction employee. Unfortunately, these illegal acts occur more frequently than parents would like to believe.
Recent Assaults Against Attraction Guests
- Authorities in Osceola County arrested 26-year-old Michael Howell and 44-year-old, Brian Maynard. The men allowed underage boys to live in their home after initiating sexual relationships with them. One suspect was employed by Disney World. The other worked at Universal Studios. The news report did not divulge whether the men initiated contact with the boys while working at the theme parks. The police notified both parks so they could check their records for any additional victims.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida arrested 40-year old Frederick M. Pohl, Jr. He was charged with “transferring obscene materials to a minor and attempting to arrange a meeting with a minor.” Pohl, a Disney World Employee, sent pornographic photos and tried to arrange a meeting with an eight-year-old girl at a local hotel. However, it was an undercover operation, and Pohl was actually making the arrangements with an undercover officer.
- Orange County deputies arrested 52-year-old Gerald Youmans for exposing himself to a girl at Aquatica Water Park. The child informed her parents immediately and they got a description of his vehicle as he drove away. The child later identified the man responsible. Youmans was an annual pass holder who had visited the park 33 times in the last three months. Police records revealed that Youmans was convicted of exposing himself to a minor in 2004. He was also arrested in 2018 for inappropriately touching himself in front of a minor.
35 Theme Park Employees Caught in Sex Sting Operations
News media and police departments documented too many incidents in recent years. A CNN headline, for example, reported, “Theme park employees caught in sex stings, child porn arrests.” The story detailed sting operations that uncovered 35 Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld employees soliciting sexual relationships with minors. The stings took place off of amusement park property, however, the individuals arrested were employees with daily access to minors. Florida courts eventually convicted 32 of the 35 men arrested in the sting operations.
Assaults Against Employees
Tourist attraction assaults aren’t always sexual and they don’t always involve guests. Media reports show that employees are also victims of assault, stalking, and other crimes. One report suggested that employees rarely report instances of assault whether the criminal is a tourist or a fellow employee.
Some recent instances involving employees include:
- Police arrested Brian Sherman, a 51-year-old registered sex offender after he allegedly groped a Disney princess. The man and his wife were posing for a photo with the princess actress when he put his arm around her and cupped her breast.
- The Orlando Sentinel reported that a Disney World guest became angry and punched a Disney “cast member.” Apparently the aggression developed because the employee didn’t have a fast pass for Tower of Terror. The news article reported that guests often scream at employees, hit them, and sexually assault them.
Why Do Sexual Offenders Go Free?
Although the system does work and sex offenders are frequently held accountable, unfortunately, some sexual offenses stay under the radar. Of reported cases, the court system delivered a positive outcome for some of the victims. That’s due, in part, to the circumstances of reporting. In one situation, the parents identified the suspect’s car, which greatly assisted the police in tracking down the offender. However, in the 35-person sting, there were no actual victims only criminal justice professionals posing as adolescents.
While the undercover operation likely deterred the predators from assaulting genuine victims, in many cases, the victim doesn’t seek justice. Even if the victim presses charges, the perpetrator is often released from the system without punishment. Criminals walk away with a belief that they can easily get away with their crimes. As a result, some offenders choose to repeat their crimes.
Most Sexual Predators Go Unpunished
Dedicated to assisting victims of sexual assault, RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) explains why victims underreport assault crimes.
Many sexual assault victims don’t have faith in the system. Most believe that if they report a crime, the police won’t do anything about it.
National crime statistics justify victims’ beliefs. Using Bureau of Justice Statistics, RAINN demonstrated the nationwide disparity in prosecution for sexual assault compared to other crimes.
- Out of every 1,000 instances of sexual assault, victims report 230 to the police.
- Officers refer only 9 of the reported cases for prosecution.
- Of the nine cases prosecuted, prosecutors produce five felony convictions.
- The court sentences 4.6 of the convictions to time in prison.
- 95 percent of those who committed sexual assaults go free.
The conviction rates are higher for many other crimes. For instance, the report rates for assault and battery are 627 out of 1,000 incidents resulting in 33 convictions. The rates are also higher for robbery, which shows 619 out of 1,000 reported resulting in 20 convictions.
Who Should Pay An Assault Victim’s Damages?
When police stings arrest 35 sexual predators that are Orlando-area theme park employees, the suspects aren’t the only problem. A workplace culture that allows sexual predators to work and thrive in a family-oriented setting should be considered. Amusement parks, hotels, bars, restaurants, and other area businesses are under a duty to keep their premises safe and secure. When employers fail to properly screen the employees they hire, they, too, must be held responsible.
Theme Park, Hotel, Restaurant, and Bar Owners are Responsible for Their Customers’ Damages
In Florida, a business owner is liable when their operation or a condition on their property causes injury. The determination of liability depends on the injured person’s status at the time the incident occurs. Although each individual case requires a comprehensive investigation, the involved parks, restaurants, and businesses may share liability for several reasons.
Employer liability may result when:
- Tourists are business invitees. An invitee’s presence on a business property generates income for the owner. Whether it’s a theme park, a hotel, a restaurant, or a bar, the business has a duty to prevent security hazards from injuring invitees.
- Businesses negligently hire employees. Employers are negligent when they hire sexual predators and convicted sex offenders. Hiring an employee with a criminal history increases security and safety hazards.
- Businesses fail to adequately screen employees. Businesses are negligent when they conduct a pre-employment investigation that fails to reveal the full extent of a potential employee’s criminal background.
- Businesses that hire an employee they should have known was a convicted sex offender. When employers fail to conduct a prudent background check, they may cause families interact with known sexual predators.
- Considering that sexual assaults are common, parks and other businesses should have enhanced security. Both employee and visitor activities should be monitored.
Theme Park Areas Are High Crime Areas
In a CNN interview, the Polk County Sheriff stated, “Wherever you find children, you’ll find sexual predators that want to be there.” A recent study supported the theory that criminals are attracted to tourist areas.
Criminology professors and students combined their efforts to research crime near the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Their study, “Crime Risks Increase in Areas Proximate to Theme Parks: A Case Study of Crime Concentration in Orlando,” discusses their findings.
The report, published in The Justice Quartly, explains how tourism is known to influence a community’s economy, culture, and environment. The research determined how tourism affected crime in a specific area. The study analyzed reported crime in the area surrounding Universal Studios in Orlando.
The group determined that:
- “Low-level street crime” (typically assault, robbery, theft, motor vehicle theft) rates increased by 198 percent in areas that were within one mile of a theme park.
- Crimes decreased by 14 percent for each kilometer traveled away from a theme park.
- Crime rates increased by 19 percent with each additional bar, hotel, or restaurant in the area.
- A facility such as a hotel or a bar can become a “crime generator” as they attract more criminals and more victims.
- Tourists are often less cautious in areas near a theme park as they believe the security is heightened.
If Someone Sexually Assaulted You, Consult an Attorney
If someone sexually assaulted you or a loved one at a theme park, a hotel or a nearby business, an attorney can help protect your legal interests. Sexual assaults are degrading and often have lasting emotional and mental impacts. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system sometimes blames victims for incidents out of their control. The legal process for seeking compensation for sexual assault is often legally complex. A personal injury attorney will help you to understand the process and your option, so that you may determine the best way to proceed.
Most law firms offer a free consultation for potential clients. Remember, when you speak with an attorney, your conversation will be kept confidential. You can share the details of your case in a private environment to learn your legal options.