October 01, 2006


Traveling Abroad? You better watch your back at all times...

NASSAU, Bahamas - When John Rood became the U.S. ambassador here in September 2004, he knew the issues he wanted to focus on: Free trade. AIDS awareness. Drug trafficking. One year into his appointment, a new problem has almost outweighed all the others: the number of unsolved rapes reported by female U.S. tourists.

By Rood's latest count, there have been about 26 rapes in the past three years - not enough to issue a travel warning - but enough for this 50-year-old father of a teenage girl to take action. "These were horrific situations," said Rood, who was a Jacksonville developer before becoming ambassador. His staff briefed him about cases of women climbing into unlicensed cabs and getting raped by the drivers. Tourists raping other tourists. Personal watercraft operators taking girls to secluded islands and assaulting them. But when he tried to learn more about these cases, he was confounded.

Bahamian authorities were helpful and polite. Yet there was no clear-cut process on obtaining information. Police and court reports, shared willingly between government agencies in the United States, were kept under lock and key. "If we don't hear about a case from the police, or if we don't hear from the victim, we may not ever know about it," Rood said.

Then came Aruba. When Natalee Holloway, an 18-year-old Alabama student, disappeared during a graduation trip in June - and when U.S. media swarmed that tiny island nation, all but demanding the case be solved on cable television - the bad publicity sent shock waves throughout every government in the Caribbean. These days, island authorities are meeting with Rood once a month to update him on the progress of the rape investigations. And two weeks ago, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism gathered 500 of the island's hotel managers, tour operators and police officials to discuss how the island chain can reduce all crimes against visitors.

"Aruba has raised everyone's awareness of how criminal situations can affect countries that are dominated by tourism," Rood said.

Late in July, Bahamian authorities feared that an Aruba-like media frenzy would erupt in Bimini. Two rich Austrian tourists - Bernhard von Bolzano, 34, and his fiancee, Barbara Frelin von Perfall, 32 - were found shot to death in their hotel. A suspect was arrested two days later. Frederick Cardinal Francis, 22, was found in possession of a shotgun and some of the couple's belongings. Probably because police arrested a suspect quickly - or maybe because the tourists weren't American - the double slayings received little attention in local or international media.

A detail that surfaced in a local newspaper grabbed Rood's attention. Fredrick Cardinal Francis, 22, was out on bail pending trial. The charge? Rape of an American tourist in 2002. Rood was unable to lay his hands on the details: Bahamian court records are sealed until a defendant is convicted. Even the police reports are hard to come by. (Sound familiar???)

Rood has no idea who the American victim is or the circumstances of the incident. He doesn't even know if that case is included in his sexual assault count, which highlights the difficulty of obtaining true crime statistics in a foreign country. "It's like playing Clue," Rood said.

Becoming a crime victim in another country is something no one thinks about when they plan a vacation. But when it does happen, it is a frightening, often confusing experience for the victim-tourist. Some victims call the embassy immediately. Others call police. According to Bahamian police authorities, the number of tourist rapes might be higher than Rood's count.

In a memo to the Ministry of Tourism dated Sept. 16, 2004, the assistant commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force said there were 55 rapes of tourists - both U.S. and non-U.S. - during 2000-04. Most times, a woman just wants to leave the country as quickly as possible without talking to anyone - which means the rapes are often not reported and the statistics may not be accurate.

"We want any tourists that are victims to come back so there can be consequences," said Sandra Patterson, director of the Women's Crisis Center of the Bahamas, which helps rape and domestic violence victims. Only once can Patterson remember when a tourist who was raped called the crisis center. "We weren't able to see her," Patterson said. "She just wanted to leave." Sometimes, victims or their parents contact police and the embassy after they get home, which is of little use to a detective.

Reginald Ferguson, the assistant police commissioner for the Royal Bahamas Police Force, said his detectives often have the same problem as their counterparts in the United States when it comes to rape cases: Many are he-said, she-said situations, while other rapes happen between lovers. When the victim - and sometimes her attacker, too - leaves the country, the case is that much harder to solve.

Bahamian authorities are trying to extradite at least one rape suspect from the United States, Ferguson said. According to Ferguson's statistics, of the 55 rape cases reported between 2000-04, nine reports were withdrawn by the victim. Twenty-one cases went to court; 23 cases were under investigation. The outcome of the court cases is unknown.

When Ambassador Rood took over, he was shocked to find that the embassy wasn't automatically notified when a U.S. tourist was the victim of a crime; when a tourist is a perpetrator of a crime, the embassy is always notified. Rood has asked Bahamian authorities to notify his office every time they receive a call from a tourist reporting a rape.

Yet prosecutions of all criminal cases, including rape cases, are slow. Scheduling conflicts with lawyers, missing witnesses and lost evidence are common. Wayne Munroe, a lawyer and president of the Bahamas Bar Association, says the backlog has gotten better: In 1999, the average length of a prosecution was 31/2 years. Now, he said, a prosecution typically lasts 18 to 24 months.

Patterson said many rape victims - both tourist and nontourist - end up dropping their cases because of the delays. "If you're a sexual assault victim, you really just want to forget this and move on," she said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The attackers not only targeted the young American blonde tourists, they were also very attracted to the Japanese white (fair complexion) young girl tourists. Many had styled their hair blonde, very fashionable in the Japanese business environment. In Tokyo, many international companies offer their female employees the free self-defense courses. The female workers learn basic martial arts exercise, and the use of electronic warfare defense device. The device is a featured added picphone which can emit high frequecy laser beam and shock audio wave to blind and ping the attacker's vision and hearing and cause extreme brain arrest. The device is non-lethal and non-provacative. Two young female Japanese company tourist employess were able to fight off the native attackers in Cayman Island. And the Japanese consulate in Bahama were notified by GPS relay. A helicoptor from a nearby Japanese oil tanker was sent to Cayman Island to pick up the tourist girls for safety.