A report published on Tuesday in one of the biggest daily newspapers in the United States, USA Today, has painted a damning picture of Jamaica as a tourist destination where sexual crimes against visitors, including rapes, are prevalent.
In response to the USA Today Report, Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism said it strongly condemns 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 ministry said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
Jamaica also has a world-leading and very high repeat visitor rate of 42 percent with an extremely low rate of crime against our visitors, according to the ministry, adding that over 20 million tourists have visited the island over the last seven years.
The article under the headline ‘Jamaica resorts facing a historic sexual assault problem’ states that over the last seven years, 78 Americans have been raped in Jamaica – roughly one U.S. citizen raped each month.
The authors list as their sources, the US Embassy, US State Department, victims and interviews with attorneys who have allegedly brought lawsuits against some of Jamaica’s leading resorts. Hotels named include the Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart-owned Sandals Resorts and the Spanish-owned Riu Resorts.
The newspaper report also detailed an incident that allegedly happened in a dark laundry room at a Sandals resort property where a 17-year-old victim from Michigan was raped by a lifeguard employed to the hotel, in the process losing her virginity.
“Behind the door, her (21-year-old) friend was being gang-raped by three resort lifeguards,” the report said. It has accused lawyers representing Sandals, of seeking to deflect blame from the hotel’s employees.
In a statement on Tuesday which was obtained by Loop News, Sandals Resorts said: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our guests, and we take these allegations very seriously. While we cannot comment further on this situation as it’s before the court, please know that we have protocols in place across our resorts and specific security measures in place at each resort to ensure guest safety. We conduct background checks on our employees, conduct extensive training on appropriate guest interactions and we have a zero-tolerance policy for fraternizing with guests.”
Loop News did not receive a response to the US media report from Jamaica Hotel Tourism Association (JHTA) President, Omar Robinson up to the publication of this article.
Two Detroit women were allegedly raped last month at gunpoint by an employee of RIU Reggae in Montego Bay. The worker had apparently slipped through the cracks having been named by the police as a person of interest in several rape cases in the months leading up to the incident.
The rape accused, a former RIU hotel employee, Demar Scott had worked there just three days after the assault. “They are now outraged, praying for justice after the terror they encountered during what was supposed to be a fun 33rd birthday celebration,” said USA Today.
“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,” the report continued.
Following the RIU case in September, the hotel released a statement saying it followed a rigorous security protocol in hiring the accused entertainment coordinator. The accused has since been arrested and charged in connection with the rape of two women during which he was disarmed by one of them and shot twice.
It has also emerged that a Justice of the Peace based in St Catherine wrote a recommendation for Scott to be employed by Riu hotel. That JP is now reportedly under investigation.
“Tourism stakeholders well aware of the problem”
Meanwhile, according to multiple victims interviewed by the Free Press, a part of the USA TODAY Network, lawyers, lawsuits and hundreds of State Department and U.S. Embassy records, Jamaica has a sexual assault problem that it is not confronting.
It said the local tourism industry is well aware of the problem.
As the State Department warned in a travel advisory this year: “Exercise increased caution in Jamaica … Sexual assaults occur frequently, even at all-inclusive resorts. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents,” the State Department wrote in a January 10 travel advisory.
The travel advisory was not the first such alarm as for three consecutive years, the State Department issued similar warnings in 2012, 2013 and 2014 crime reports, stating: “A special concern continues to be the number of sexual assaults perpetrated by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast of Jamaica, and the need for forceful investigation and follow-up by the hotels and by police and other security officials.”
The USA Today report states that in 2017 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.
In the meantime, USA Today said the 78 US citizens raped in Jamaica over the past seven years include: A mentally handicapped woman in her 20s; an Indiand mother who was 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.
The report notes that “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.”
According to the USA Today report, the U.S. Embassy has indicated that 12 Americans were raped in Jamaica in 2017, 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 report said.
Authorities making progress to tackle the problem
Despite the alarming report, USA Today has acknowledged that Jamaica has made some progress in tackling the problem. It pointed out that The State Department has 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.
But the problem crept back in 2017: Out of the dozen of Americans sexually assaulted in Jamaica that year, six were attacked in resorts allegedly 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.
And USA Today said the Jamaica Constabulary Force, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Neither did Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism.
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.”