A Canadian woman speaking out about a nightmare vacation is shedding light on the experiences of sexual assault victims internationally.
Emily, who is only using her first name, was enjoying a relaxing time on a chair by the beach, when she says she fell sleep and woke up to a man on top of her.
“It took me a second to realize what was happening, but the moment I felt his hand up my dress that’s when I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I just freaked out ,and I don’t think he was expecting me to be sober and to be as strong.”
Emily, who was at the resort with her fiancé, said the man was wearing the same resort uniform as other employees at the hotel. However, when she went to report what happened to resort staff, she quickly realized it was going to be an uphill battle.
“They didn’t do anything,” she said. “There was no ‘let’s go and see what we can do,’ it was just nothing. Nobody said let’s do something.”
Flora Vineberg, a lawyer with Jellinek Law Office, said we don’t have an accurate number of how often sexual assaults may occur at resorts. Many victims here in Canada don’t speak out for similar reasons – either out of fear, for cultural religious reasons, or because of language barriers.
“They’re at the resorts for the short-term, so they probably wonder if it’s worth it to come forward if they know they’re going to be leaving,” Vinberg said. “In the aftermath of a sexual assault, there’s likely a significant amount of trauma, and you have to assess whether or not you need medical attention.”
In the event that someone wants to file a report overseas, Vineberg said there are further barriers that can prevent someone from reporting their incident. For instance, filing a police report can sometimes be intimidating.
Vineberg, who represents sexual assault clients, added that in previous years, resorts have offered guests “nominal fee or reimbursement of their trip” in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent them from litigating their sexual assault.
“People often feel that they’re not going to be believed, so they’re not going to come forward,” Vineberg said.
“People who work at the resort – staff members included – who try to brush things under the rug, it’s also because their jobs rely on tourism. Confronting the problem and acknowledging that it exists is often going to compromise business. Or at least, that’s the perception.”
In the last few years, multiple reports of women being sexually assaulted by resort staff have made the news, including a recent incident reported by CityNews at a Sunwing-operated resort in Cuba.
The vacation company tells CityNews it recognizes that sexual assault is a global issue, and more needs to be done to address the needs of victims, including educating and training their employees on responding “with compassion and understanding.”
The spokesperson also said the company is working with the Canadian organization, White Ribbon, to establish protocols for addressing and preventing sexual violence, harassment and bullying.
“This engagement will include a review of existing policies and procedures to ensure a consistent approach to these issues. Our objective, in partnership with White Ribbon, is to work across the company towards awareness, prevention and zero tolerance of sexual harassment, violence and bullying,” the spokesperson said.
The Canadian government has a list of travel advisories on the Global Affairs website.
For Cuba, women are advised there have been reports of assault, rape and sexual aggression, including at beach resorts. Victims are advised to report these incidents to the Canadian consulate or embassy, and are “strongly advised” to file a report with Cuban authorities.
CityNews reached out to Global Affairs on Monday to ask about how many sexual assault allegations have been made by Canadians who were vacationing down south in the last few years, but we have not received a response.
It’s important for Canadians to review these travel advisories ahead of traveling, said Vineberg, who adds that it’s also a good idea to research online reviews, including on TripAdvisor. “Social media is an excellent platform for people to discuss issues like safety concerns that the consular website can’t address as specifically.”
“They can post specifics about certain resorts and hotels that have had a high number of incidents of sexual assaults, that the Canadian government can’t post,” said Vineberg.
A year ago, TripAdvisor launched a new feature to help travelers find safety-related information when searching for a specific travel destination.
This includes reviews that mention incidents such as sexual assault, death, drugging, physical assault and trafficking. The travel site began flagging these posts using their safety filter, telling users what safety concerns have been flagged, and also marking reviews that report a serious safety incident.
So far, the website has tagged a little over 1,500 safety reviews and the majority of those fall in the sexual assault category.
“It’s also worth highlighting that businesses always get the right to reply to every review, it’s an example of the fairness in our system, and that there’s two sides to every story that consumers can weigh as they make decisions,” a Trip Advisor spokesperson told CityNews.
That was one of the tools used by Emily, who took to the website to share her experiences in Cuba, saying she was sexually assaulted by an employee.
The 29 year-old also took to social media to post a 12 minute video detailing the incident, saying she felt a responsibility to speak out about what happened to her. She said at least two women, who had similar experiences, reached out to her to thank her for speaking out.
“It’s important to talk about it,” she said. “It’s none of our faults, it’s this person’s fault who did something to me. By sharing this experience, I hope not only empowers myself, but other women who have gone through it.”