Where is Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism? Why has he not publicly responded to the serious charges leveled against Jamaica’s most dependable, yet, most fragile industry? Up to the time of writing, I am not aware of any response made by the portfolio minister. If he has responded, then his response must be forceful enough for all, including me, to see and hear. For those who are not aware, on October 30, 2018, Tresa Baldas of the Detroit Free Press, which is a member of the USA Today network, wrote a scathing and embarrassing article on Jamaica’s tourism resorts which was captioned, ‘Jamaica resorts facing a ‘historic’ sexual assault problem’.
Immediately, the story was picked up by USA Today and instantaneously became international news. The damage done to Jamaica cannot be quantified immediately, however, all stops must be pulled out to counter the negative charges in the article. The minister, who has a propensity to publicly embrace all the positives of the industry, seems to be M.I.A. Where has he gone in the face of the scurrilous charges?
Among those charges are, over the last seven years, 78 U.S. citizens have been raped in Jamaica, according to State Department statistics from 2011-17. One American is raped in Jamaica each month, the U.S. Embassy reports; 12 Americans were raped in Jamaica last year, half of them inside resorts by hotel employees. That report went further to state, “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”.
Most incendiary though is the following: “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. And the tourism industry is well aware of the problem”. Mr. Minister, is that last statement true? If so, what have you done to ensure that our guests are protected from the sexual predators that the article alleges are in the industry?
Rape of anyone, irrespective of race or colour is a brutal and venal act committed by one who cannot attain power through no other means. I will not scoff at the allegations. Even if only one incident can be proven, it poses a blot on our reputation. It has long been known that Jamaica’s tourism product included more than white sand beaches, clear blue water, sun, pulsating music, exotic food and the natural vibes of our people. Unspoken of, is the sex tourism or ‘big bamboo’ component. Negril and Ochi Rios are tourist towns known for ‘rent-a-dreads’, yet we have heard nothing of the exploitative white women who come here for sex with a rent a dread.
That being said, there are other startling allegations in the Detroit Free Press investigative piece. It has posited that, according to Trip by Sky Scanner, a California-based travel research company that reviews destinations worldwide, Jamaica was ranked the third most dangerous country for female travelers.
These charges certainly give Jamaica’s principal foreign exchange earner a black eye and knowing how fickle this industry is, it will require all the skills of the Jamaica Tourist Board technocrats and the Public Relations professionals at Finn Partners, the New York public relations firm charged with the marketing responsibility, promotion of the island and crisis management. While those professionals seek ways and means to address those charges, which can potentially cause undue harm to the industry, the minister must and should be seen as responsive, similarly to the posturing made after the ‘Thai Cave Boys’ were rescued.
ACT POST HASTE
Delano Seiveright, who is employed to the minister as a communications consultant, must provide the minister enough information to make a coherent response to the explosive charges made in the USA Today/Detroit Free Press article. Left unchallenged by the minister and tourism stakeholders, Jamaica will lose, not gain, in value the “billions of dollars” as Seiveright glibly opined some months ago. The minister and his coterie must act post haste.
They must give assurance to our guests and the Jamaican people that destination Jamaica is a safe haven and not the lawless, pariah state depicted in the article. It cuts me to the core when I read the following: “This is the Jamaica that the U.S. State Department has repeatedly warned tourists about. This is the island paradise that the government says has a pervasive sexual assault problem.”
To date, I have only seen one push back to the charges and it came from Montego Bay, based attorney-at-law, Gordon Brown. I am going to quote the following from a reputable Jamaican media house: “Jamaican attorney, Gordon Brown, a former adviser to the Jamaica Tourist Board, told USA Today 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.” What say you Mr. Minister? Let your voice be heard.