Warning: Resorts Covering Up Sexual Assaults

The Detroit Free Press carries an important investigative report on reports of sexual assaults in Jamaica where mutiple resorts have taken steps to ‘cover up’ incidents.

  • Failing to make evidence available
  • Encouraging women not to file complaints with the police, even to just ‘forget about it’
  • Seeking non-disclosure agreements surrounding incidents

Over the last several years, Jamaican resorts have silenced multiple sexual assault victims, discouraging them from calling the police or pressing charges, downplaying their fears and offering free hotel stays or cash refunds in exchange for a promise not to sue or tell anyone what happened, the Free Press found.

There are stories of spiked drinks and rapes on resort excursions — and resorts telling guests not to report their experiences to police, and seeking to have reports removed from social media.

Reports cover several properties including Beaches Negril Resort & Spa; Sunscape Splash; Sandals Ochi Beach Resort; Grand Bahia Principe; Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa and Hotel Riu Reggae. To be sure, the reports are of incidents believed to be statistically rare — about once a month — but we also don’t really know given efforts to suppress sharing of details.

Credit: Beaches Negril Resort & Spa

I’m not a personal security expert but I’ve traveled extensively. I don’t face the precise same risks as a male that women do, and that’s regardless of age, the stories of rape aren’t limited to younger women. When I travel I try not to stand out too much by my dress and actions, and try not to be alone in remote places.

In offering this suggestion I am absolutely not blaming the victim the way a local police woman seems to,

After going to the hospital, the au pair went to the police station to give a statement. There, she heard a comment that left her reeling.

“The police woman said to me, ‘Were you not warned about the culture here?’ ” she recalled, noting she was confused.

The police woman elaborated: “These things happen here. … Next time, don’t have so many drinks.”

However — and this shouldn’t be necessary — but it’s important to take steps to protect yourself. Consider not going out alone, especially after dark. That’s a challenge with solo travel! And especially consider not drinking while traveling solo.

That’s good advice I think even when traveling in the United States, but doubly so in a country where a State Department travel advisory says, “Sexual assaults occur frequently, even at all-inclusive resorts.”

Not all of the stories involve women traveling alone, however, or even involve alcohol. However the broader point is that you may feel safe because you’re on property at a resort, but perhaps we too easily let our guard down. Being alone with a stranger can be dangerous, even if the stranger is employed by your resort.

My wife has traveled to yoga retreats in Mexico and Costa Rica. A surprising number of facilities don’t have locks on the doors of guest rooms. She won’t go to those.

One area where I depart from the common narrative is that I think criticism of resorts for failing to notify police can be overdone. What resorts are to blame for is failing to make surveillance video footage and other evidence available that can identify perpetrators, whether employees or guests. No doubt they want to avoid publicity which could depress future bookings and avoid potential liability.

There’s too much emphasis on resorts failing to notify police I think, guests are capable of doing that. And police aren’t always helpful, either. Hopefully with greater attention here though resorts can be pressured,

  1. to assist in the investigation of crimes
  2. to shift away from seeking non-disclosure agreements in exchange for (very modest) compensation, because people really do need to be aware of the risks — indeed, systematically acting in a way to prevent guests from knowing the risks they face ought to increase liability.

Resorts do bear some responsibility, presenting themselves as safe cocoons in foreign lands, to at least do extensive background checks on their own employees. Some say they do this. They can’t guarantee the behavior of other guests, but they can support victims by providing evidence to authorities — failing to do so creates an environment that’s encouraging of future incidents.

(HT: Allan H, note that’s as distinguised from reader Alan H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I remember talking to a beautiful blonde woman that traveled alone extensively. She told me she carried protection against such incidences. A long sharp knife, what do you think I meant.

  2. I can imagine that after being sexually assaulted in a Foreign Country victims can be confused regarding whether the police have been notified. I imagine a resort security person with a uniform might be the first contact. If this sounds odd, it isn’t. My car was vandalized in Brooklyn, NY at a mall known as Kings Plaza. Uniformed mall security responded quickly, took the report and told me I would be contacted in a few days to discuss damages. I asked if I could get a police report and they assured me all was being handled. In short, all was hushed up, no Police were notified and I was told that Kings Plaza takes no responsibility.
    Resort and Mall security are there to confuse the issue, not to help.

  3. Good that you publicized these reports, Gary. At first glance, though, I thought you were going to write about similar reports from Mexico, and about TripAdvisor’s shameful refusal to publish reviews detailing such experiences.

  4. Reading through that news article was absolutely horrifying. I know that a large percentage of assaults aren’t reported, and it sounds like even the ones that do try to report it are shut down.

  5. Thank you for reporting! I had no idea this goes on and will avoid countries and resort brands that participate in cover ups and non reporting.

    To hear that TripAdvisor refuses to publish reviews detailing these experiences is just as bad. I’ve always been a fan and trusted TripAdvisor for honest reviews. Not so much anymore. Shame on you TripAdvisor!

  6. TripAdvisor not only suppresses these stories but others regarding theft and other incidents (they’ve done it to me, even with police involvement).

    I closed my account and don’t rely on their reviews any more.

  7. Sexual assault is preferred probably when you consider others lost their lives and were murdered
    Mexico has been a source of such issues for years
    Drugging or spiking drinks and demanding cash for ambulance and hospital treatment with hotels and employees taking a cut
    As one poster said yeah but its cheap and sunny to go these places and you can get drunk
    You couldn’t pay my expenses to go to any of these places ever
    Sorry to fans of these places but no thanks
    Trip Advisor ever since it was sold by the original owners is racked in censorship as it is now a sales platform first and a somewhat fake review site second

  8. My list of places not to go to for a vacation (or any reason):
    – Mexico
    – Somalia
    – Jamaica
    – North Korea
    – Columbia
    – India
    – Afganistan
    – Pakistan

  9. Thanks, Gary, for making this post.

    Sadly, the unsafe places don’t just include the above mentioned ones. There are some western European countries that are also now bloody dangerous for women from a sexual assault or harassment perspective. I was sexually harassed in Germany twice and even in Zurich once, all during daytime in downtown in the past 18 months. The perpetrators are definitely not from Europe. The attacks followed the style: a small gang surrounded me and groped me. This description totally fits that of attacks in Cologne during that 2016/17 NYE party. I believe the perpetrators are the same type of scumbags.

    Anyway, when I reported these incidents to the local cops, I received the same treatment: they refused to let me file a report. Period. When I insisted, they then just played the “I don’t speak English” card. I guess unreported crime, at least to them, is not a crime. This is one way to artificially keep crime stats down.

  10. I don’t get the fascination with the Caribbean. It’s not cheap anymore and you can find the same resorts in California, Florida, Mexico, Hawaii, etc. I guess it is relatively close to the East Coast and South but absolutely of no interest to us on the West Coast.
    Kudos to Gary to reporting on the dangers there. Sad that Tripadvisor is too scared (of being sued) to publish honest reports of crime at hotels.

  11. Where is Morgan&Morgan when you need them? TripAdvisor rejecting negative type reviews would be an interesting starting point for an assault victim. Name brand resorts such as Sandals (or is it Scandals?) that advertise in the US and are promoted by numerous travel agents would serve as another attack vector. If I book using Ultimate Rewards or AMEX (dont leave home without it) rewards points, they could also be liable if they did not adequately disclose warnings. Or worse, if they rejected documented warnings as irrelevant reviews. Unlike TripAdvisor, they have substantial incentive to suppress warnings and sell a vacation.
    Instead, they should be actively investigating claims with real PI’s that can ferret out this behavior from employees. Chase, AMEX and Costco should have live feed video from cameras at the resorts they promote. If other patrons are the suspects, that is one problem. But resort employees should be monitored and patterns can be identified. Pound law, right? Or is it hashtag? Who cares.

  12. It looks like there are many cases of the assaults that are not reported. We need to write about it much more to warn fellow travelers. If TripAdvisor does not agree to write about it , shame on them there!

  13. @EndlosLuft: it was in Berlin and Heidelberg. The police made it difficult, if not impossible, to let me file a report. Their excuse was: I was a tourist and would not be able to testify in court anyway. Shame on them!

  14. TravelBuddy, what exactly was the form of the sexual harassment?

    I’ve seen a lot of what I consider to be sexual harassment go on around in NYC — Central Park during the day in the summer time comes to mind many a summer — and elsewhere in the US and around the world, but it wouldn’t generally be considered sexual assault and thus often isn’t very reliably legally actionable from a criminal justice perspective.

    So what exactly happened to you in Berlin and in Zurich? And what makes you think the perpetrators of your sexual harassment in Zurich and in Berlin were all definitely not from Europe? You do realize that not all people definitely from Europe are perceived as “white” by everyone, even when they are definitely from Europe, “white” or “not white”?

  15. There are some lessons learned from the #MeToo movement, but certainly not enough. It is pathetic that some folks attack the victims, rather than sympathizing with them.

    Groping is groping is groping. To be precise, the gropers in those instances grabbed my chest and my butt. Is this enough for you to define sexual harassment? Is it ok for you or your loved ones to experience this horror?

    BTW, I did live in Europe for 6 years, including 2+ years at an international (mainly continental European) boarding school. I do know very well what various European families of language (Germanic, Latin, Slavic…etc.) sound like. I also took 1 full year of Arabic, 3 years of Japanese, and another 3 years of Chinese. What I heard in all the groping instances: not any European language, not Japanese, and not Chinese.

  16. Travelbuddy said (several posts up): “The perpetrators are definitely not from Europe. The attacks followed the style: a small gang surrounded me and groped me.”
    (1) GUWonder is right, before internet, Newspapers used to report Gang gropings in Central Park. In fact, Wikipedia has an entry for “Puerto Rican Day Parade attacks” in 2000, you can look it up.
    (2) Fact: Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” Hate speech laws are being implemented in Europe in accordance with Article 20.
    (3) To Wit: TravelBuddy’s “perpetrators are definitely not from Europe” probably violates European Hate Speech laws. In fact, USA Newspaper reporting on the Puerto Rican Day Parade incidents probably also violates European Hate Speech Laws.
    (4) Let’s hope such laws never come to USA. It is “ok”, for Travelbuddy to report what she has seen. It is not “ok” to sweep such observations under the rug. This practice of groping needs to be called out and single women travelers should be warned, and if necessary take precautions. Victims should not be silenced for the greater good of preventing Article 20 Hate Speech or for to sake of political correctness.
    (5) To Travelbuddy: Thanks for the heads-up. I will warn women I know about the danger (when appropriate).

  17. @Travelbuddy: there are millions of Europeans whose primary language is arabic or another Middle-Eastern language. How would you know if those people were recent immigrants or not? Or are you just assuming? Your comment that they were “not from Europe” shows a lot of bias.
    Groping is something that men of all backgrounds engage in, and it’s a crime regardless of their background. The subtext is the old trope that immigrants are more likely to be rapists, which, aside from some specific anecdotes (Cologne New Year’s in 2016-17 for example), isn’t borne out in larger statistics.

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