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JAMAICA | Int'l Press details allegations of rape in Jamaican hotels

Featured JAMAICA | Int'l Press details allegations of rape in Jamaican hotels
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica October 31, 2018 - Jamaica's tourism sector is under pressure to take immediate steps to ensure the security of guests in Jamaican hotels. This follows a report in the international media which outlined terrifying incidents of sexual assault on several United States tourists at some of the country's leading resorts.

Jamaica's tourism ministry, in a press release, said it was aware of the article, adding that it "strongly condemned these incidents of assault and all other crimes against visitors and citizens alike. We want the public to be assured that all cases that are identified, whether they are current or of a historic nature, are being given full attention because Jamaica is committed to maintaining a safe, secure and seamless destination."

The report: 'Resorts in Jamaica are facing a 'historic' sexual assault problem,'  was first published by the Detroit Free Press, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network, has painted a damning picture of the island's tourism industry, claiming that sexual assaults are occurring inside gated resorts on the island.

The Detroit Free Press in its comprehensive investigative report, alleged that Jamaica has a pervasive sexual assault problem, with an estimated one American is raped each month.

The report says "over the past seven years, 78 U.S. citizens have been raped in Jamaica according to State Department statistics from 2011-17. The victims include: A mentally handicapped woman in her 20s; an Indiana mother gang-raped by three Cuban soccer players in a resort bathroom stall; a 20-year-old woman raped by two men in her hotel; two Detroit mothers raped at gunpoint in their room; a Kent County teenager and her 21-year-old friend, gang-raped by lifeguards in a locked laundry room at the resort where they were staying."

"Perhaps most alarming for tourists is that sexual assaults are occurring inside gated resorts — the place they are led to believe that they are most safe. For example, this year, the Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club, where the lifeguard assaults occurred in 2015, was given the Travelers Choice Award by TripAdvisor; it's the travel group's highest recognition given to the top 1 percent of hotels," the report states.

The Detroit Free Press says "according to U.S. Embassy reports, 12 Americans were raped in Jamaica last year, half of them inside resorts by hotel employees. The U.S. government suspects this number may be higher as sexual assaults are often underreported, and the embassy figures don't include victims from other countries.

"The Detroit victims knew none of this when they booked their trip to Jamaica. The two women were raped at gunpoint on Sept. 27 at the five-star Hotel Riu Reggae in Montego Bay, allegedly by a hotel employee who had worked there just three days. They are now outraged, praying for justice after the terror they encountered during what was supposed to be a fun 33rd birthday celebration.

"When the women reported the rape to hotel staff, management told them that they had never heard of this type of assault happening there before. Local officials took the same position, implying that sexual assaults were rare. 

"But according to multiple victims interviewed by the Free Press, lawyers, lawsuits and hundreds of State Department and U.S. Embassy records, Jamaica has a sexual assault problem that it is not confronting. And the tourism industry is well aware of the problem."

Attorney

In response to the allegations, Jamaican attorney, Gordon Brown, a former adviser to the Jamaica Tourist Board, told the newspaper that over the years his law firm has represented hotels and hotel operators in civil suits involving sexual assaults.

Brown said in several instances the allegations were not substantiated, adding that it does not appear that sex crimes are a widespread problem.

He added that a big issue with sexual assault cases in Jamaica is consent.

The report quoted Mr Brown as saying most hotels have a zero-tolerance attitude toward hotel employees having any type of sexual encounter with guests.

He added that the Jamaica Tourist Board tends to monitor and police this information quite rigorously, adding that all allegations of assault, robbery or any incident of criminal activity is typically very rigorously investigated.

The Detroit Free Press report says "last year, Jamaica was ranked the third-most dangerous country for female travelers by Trip by Skyscanner, a California-based travel research company that reviews destinations worldwide. Egypt and Morocco topped the list."

"When the Detroit women booked their reservation at Hotel Riu Reggae, they didn't know about the survey, either," the report said.

"They looked forward to their island getaway and enjoyed it, until the last day of their vacation, when a gunman burst into their room through their balcony and demanded money. The women said they had no cash and threw credit cards on the bed. 

"He cocked the gun and said, 'You bitches know that this is a gun ... go turn the lights off or I'm going to f------ kill you,' " one of the victims told the Free Press.

The lights went off. He raped them both, they said, until one of the women got hold of the gun and shot him twice. He was arrested the next day and is facing charges.

"The Detroit victims have said the police were helpful, but the hotel seemed dismissive.

"They said they had never heard of this before,” recalled one of the victims.

The Sandals resort victims and their mothers — all of them from Michigan — heard the same line in 2015 when they reported the laundry-room rapes to the hotel management.

"The hotel said, 'This has never happened,' " one mother recalled. "The manager wanted us to sign paperwork saying nothing happened."

The mother wouldn't hear of it, and has been reeling ever since."

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has questioned Jamaica's capacity to do anything about the problem, noting its police force is considered underpaid, poorly trained and understaffed. 
 
The US  report quoted the State Department saying that reporting crime in Jamaica can seem archaic. It says the confusing and lengthy process is widely believed to be a waste of time, adding that this can leave victims feeling further violated, helpless and hopeless.
 
The State Department says, while sexual assaults involving Americans at hotels in Jamaica declined in 2016, the problem worsened in 2017.

Jamaica unable to handle problem

"Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism declined to comment on pending sexual assault cases, saying it cannot comment on active investigations. But it did defend the island's commitment to protecting tourists from crime," the report states.

"Jamaica prides itself on having an enviable low rate of incidents of crime against visitors. The safety of our citizens and guests are always of the utmost concern," the Ministry of Tourism wrote in an email to the Free Press, stressing new efforts are underway to help ensure visitor safety.  

"For example, the Ministry of Tourism said it recently announced that the government will revoke the license of any hotel which fails to meet requirements for the security of guests. The ministry also has warned that it will be conducting a security audit of the island's major hotels and attractions to ensure the safety of tourists and guests.  A group called the The Tourism Product Development Company will carry out the audit. 

"According to the Jamaica Tourist Board, more than 1 million Americans visit Jamaica every year, accounting for about two-thirds of all visitors to the island, whose blue-green coastal waters, sunny weather and laid-back reggae vibe draws billions in tourism dollars. 

"Americans are the biggest contributors, spending more than $3 billion in Jamaica in 2017, a 15 percent increase from the $2.6 billion they spent in 2016. Jamaica also has enjoyed a steady increase in American tourists over the past five years, from 1.1 million U.S. visitors in 2013 to 1.5 million in 2017.

"But while tourism has grown, so have warnings about sexual violence, as evidenced by the numerous State Department travel advisories and crime reports that refer to sexual assaults as a "historic concern" in Jamaica."

Jamaica, however, has made some progress on this front. The State Department said that hotel sex assaults involving Americans dropped in 2016. For example, out of 18 Americans raped in Jamaica that year, just one occurred at a resort,"says the Detroit Free Press in its extensive report on the Jamaican problem.

But the problem crept back in 2017: Out of the dozen of Americans sexually assaulted in Jamaica that year, six were attacked in resorts at the hands of employees.

"Sexual assaults against American guests by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast have again risen," the State Department wrote in a 2018 report.

"The Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," a State Department official wrote in an email to the Free Press. "Part of that responsibility is providing information to help U.S. citizens make informed decisions about traveling abroad."

The Jamaica Constabulary Force, the country's official police force, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Neither did the Office of Public Prosecutions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has questioned Jamaica's ability to do anything about the problem, noting its police force is considered "underpaid, poorly trained and understaffed."  

"Reporting crime can seem archaic," the State Department has stated. "And the confusing, lengthy process is widely believed to be a waste of time."

This can leave victims feeling violated further, helpless and hopeless.

 

Last modified onWednesday, 31 October 2018 08:20
  • Countries: Jamaica

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