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7 November 2018, Sexual assaults endemic at Jamaican resorts, says US State Department and news reports; other Caribbean locales experience similar problems November 28, 2018
An endemic problem
The Tribune’s story was, in part, based on the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) report on Jamaica: Jamaica 2018 Crime and Safety Report. It says that 12 U.S. citizens were raped or sexually assaulted in 2017 alone. Half of these were done by hotel/resort employees.
The Chicago Tribune cites other State Department statistics that say from 2011-17, 78 U.S. citizens were raped in Jamaica. Statistically, that’s nearly one a month for a six-year timeframe (13 a year). The Chicago Tribune also cautioned, “The U.S. government suspects this number [of rapes/sexual assaults] may be higher as sexual assaults are often underreported, and the embassy figures don’t include victims from other countries.” Some of these were gang rapes, and others were by single male attackers carrying weapons.
One recent case
These disturbing facts have become prominent in the press as of late because of the rape of two women at gunpoint, allegedly by an employee of the Hotel Riu Reggae in Montego Bay. Riu is the same hotel company that is accused of failing to provide more effective security — along with the Tunisian government — to prevent the 26 June 2015 massacre of hotel guests at its Imperial Marhaba property in Sousse. That attack killed 38 and wounded 39.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the Hotel Riu Reggae attack happened this way: at 11:15 pm on 28 September 2018, a dancer at the hotel who had been working there for three days climbed up the side of the hotel, and, via the second floor balcony, made his way into the room of two women from the US. He held them at gunpoint and raped them both for 15 minutes. He also robbed them. One of the victims, however, managed to secure the rapist’s gun and opened fire, striking him in the arm. He fled, but was later arrested by the police.
Lee Bailey, Chair of the Police Civic Committee in St. James, Jamaica, said the hotel might not have properly vetted the employee alleged to have carried out the attack. Mr. Bailey told the press, “We have very strict rules as to who works in hotels. Anybody who wants to invest in Jamaica must abide by and respect those regulations.”
Loopjamaica.com reported that RIU’s PR department initially said the attack was “an unprecedented event” and that, “The management continues to work closely with the local authorities and all the team at RIU Reggae is making an effort to provide the level of service and comfort that the current guests expect and deserve.”
Later, in a follow on statement, RIU said, “It is relevant to note that RIU Hotels and Resorts has a very severe and rigorous security policy regarding the hiring of employees and trainees. The protocol was followed and the documentation requested. The trainee presented a recommendation letter from a justice of the peace, he also had to submit a recommendation from an entertainment manager from another company, and he also presented a CV with experience and education relevant to the position he applied for. The police record is also always requested prior to formalising the work contract.”
The Chicago Tribune says, however, that Jamaican police had posted wanted posters of the alleged Hotel Riu Reggae rapist six months before he carried out his 28 September attack, calling him a “person of interest in connection with a string of rapes.” They also offered a $35,000 reward for tips leading to his arrest, again, six months before the September rapes.
TripAdvisor has posted additional accusations of sexual harassment at the Hotel Riu Reggae, one of which is posted here. The resort’s Online Reputation Manager said they were unable to help in this particular case because of a lack of details on the alleged event.
Tourism and hotels/resorts are big business
Tourism is big business in Jamaica. According to the Jamaica Tourist Board, it receives more than two million tourists each year. In 2017, tourist numbers were 2,352,915, a new record, and 7.8% higher than 2016. The Jamaican Information Service reports that the tourism sector brought in $62.2 billion in 2017. Tourism accounts for more than 50% of Jamaica’s total foreign exchange earnings and provides about one-fourth of the country’s jobs. It also accounts for 31.1% of the country’s GDP.
Recent nationwide violence in Jamaica
Despite being a top tourist destination, Jamaica has experienced a degree of violence as of late that has raised its risk profile. In January 2018, reports Time magazine, the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency because of rampant crime, and it urged vacationers not to leave their hotels/resorts because of the unsafe environment. Rapes, murders, robberies, and assaults had surged, and the government deployed the military to quell the violence.
The Sun reports that in 2017, there were 335 murders in Montego Bay alone, a key tourist town. Montego Bay hosts Jamaica’s biggest airport, a cruise ship port, and 8,961 hotel rooms (159 hotels, says Hotels.com).
As of 2018, TripAdvisor said it was flagging resorts that have been reported as posing a sexual assault risk. In 2017, however, TripAdvisor was accused of, and admitted to, removing such warnings from its website.
Below is a limited sample list of hotels/resorts (or locations near them) in the Caribbean where sexual assaults have been alleged over the past few years. It should be noted that one incident does not necessarily mean that the hotel/resort is a dangerous place, especially if the venue mitigated the issue and instituted permanent violence prevention measures:
- Sandals Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club, St. Ann, Boscobel, Jamaica
- Holiday Inn Sun Spree resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Grand Bahia Principe Turquesa resort (by Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts), Dominican Republic
- Bahia Principe Runaway Bay (by Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts), Jamaica
- Cabbage Beach, (jet ski operator raped a woman, reported by Tribune 242, the location was on the beach in front of Paradise Island Beach Club, Bahamas Ocean Villas; it is unclear if the perpetrator was officially or unofficially connected to the resort or not)
- Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica
Loretta Merritt, a Toronto-based lawyer who handles sexual assault cases, says many of her clients are attacked at resorts by resort employees. She told CBC News, “They [tour operators] are in a pretty powerful position. They choose what hotels they operate in. They can say, ‘If you don’t do anything [to mitigate the violence], we won’t sell to you.’”
Ms. Merritt is the lawyer for a victim who was assaulted at the Grand Bahia Principe Turquesa resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It is a gated resort with guards, and a guard is the accused rapist. The victim said resort’s response to the attack was lackadaisical, and bare minimal assistance was offered. After following up on the attack — once the victim returned home and received proper medical treatment and filed a police report — the Grand Bahia Principe reportedly sent her an email, saying, “Please be advised this has been escalated to the tour operator and we have nothing to do with it anymore.”
CBC news reports that the hotel disputed the issue, asserting the victim, “refused medical attention and the involvement of authorities,” and that she “was unable to identify the aggressor.” The victim said these allegations were patently false. Grand Bahia later fired the accused guard, lending credence to the assault accusation.
Spain-based Grupo Piñero owns Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts. The latter earned $250 million USD for Grupo Piñero in 2017, and it accounts for 72% of the parent company’s business. The parent company has 27 hotels. Soltour is the brand’s tour operating business.
“Lastly, the group continues to make strides in sustainability, integrating six of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals into its corporate social responsibility strategy. During the past year, it invested US $2.8 million into improving workplaces and making them safer and healthier for its employees.”
There are six takeaways here. First, regarding security, both employee vetting and guest safety are abysmal at some even top-rated Caribbean hotels/resorts, and senior hospitality officials need to become directly involved in correcting these issues.
Second, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, US State Department, and other foreign ministry threat warnings should be read and digested by tourists before choosing and visiting a holiday destination. Sole reliance on travel websites such as TripAdvisor will not suffice. Additionally, the vast majority of the time, travel companies and hotels will not demonstrate threat intelligence to guests and potential travelers.
Third, travelers need to pay attention to the criminal threats mentioned in government travel warnings and not simply terrorism. Just because a holiday destination is a popular and picturesque place seemingly free from pending terrorist dangers does not mean that it cannot be inundated with a crime wave, including sexual assaults.
Fourth, while police and hotel/resort managers in countries like Jamaica do not want any harm whatsoever to come to their guests — a full 1/3 of the economy is at stake in Jamaica — there can be, in some countries’ tourist areas:
- Crime that far exceeds law enforcement capabilities
- Security costs and methods that hotels/resorts do not want to shoulder
- Issues with local corruption or weak institutions that make proper vetting difficult
Regarding the latter, the hospitality sector can be woefully inept at getting ahead of violence mitigation before it happens. Because of these three disconnects listed above, violence and sexual assaults at popular tourist destinations can and do happen, and they can be endemic in certain locations.
Fifth, because of the potential financial and reputational damages that countries and hotels/resorts can suffer, violence/sexual assault consequence management can be a low priority, despite copious press releases and claims of social responsibly and guest safety. Consequence management includes:
- Taking responsibility for guests that have been attacked
- Helping guests that have been attacked
- Insuring that this type violence does not happen again
Sixth, hotel/resort guests should take personal security precautions to directly counter violence and sexual assault to the extent that is legally and practically possible. Being familiar with the attack scenarios and how they happen is key. Taking a “know before you go” attitude and doing “security homework” prior to visiting a particular destination is prudent, especially at those hotels/resorts that just pay mouth service to guest safety and security.
Sources and further reading:
“Resorts in Jamaica are facing a ‘historic’ sexual assault problem,” Chicago Tribune, 7 November 2018.
“RIU Hotel defends recruitment policy after alleged rape by worker,” Loopjamaica.com, 2 October 2018.
“Raped in Jamaica: Detroit woman turns gun on attacker at 5-star hotel,” Detroit Free Press, 2 October 2018.
“’I could have ID’d him’: Woman says Dominican resort didn’t investigate claim that she was raped by staffer,” CBC News, 20 May 2018.
“Tourism Revenue Grew by 12.1 Per Cent in 2017,” Jamaican Information Service, 9 May 2018.
“Tourists in Jamaica Warned Not to Leave Resorts Due to Violent Crime,” Time, 20 January 2018.
“Six straight years of growth for Bahia Principe parent company Grupo Piñero,”Travel Week, 26 January 2018.
“TripAdvisor admits deleting post warning of rape and assault,” Engaget, 11 March 2017.
US State Department, Overseas Security Advisory Council, Jamaica 2018 Crime and Safety Report.
Jamaica Tourist Board, Annual Travel Statistics, 2017, xi.
World Travel and Tourism Council, Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017, Jamaica, 2017, page 3.
“Man Held After Rape Attack On Us Tourist,” Tribune 242, 4 January 2016.
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