Resorts in Jamaica covered up sexual assaults and paid victims, report says

By Peter Martinez

/ CBS News

Resorts in Jamaica covered up sexual assaults

A new investigation shows a number of popular Jamaican beach resorts have covered up alleged sexual assaults and then paid victims to stay silent. A report by the Detroit Free Press said "sexual assaults of tourists are a long-standing and unchecked problem in Jamaica, where an estimated one American is raped a month, according to State Department statistic."

Tresa Baldas, federal courts reporter with the newspaper who published an investigation into the resorts, told CBSN's Elaine Quijano she had spoken to victims from multiple resorts and said the assault allegations were handled differently at each one.

"You had some [resorts] that would have guests sign nondisclosure agreements and they refund their trips," Baldas said. "There were other victims that told me, 'the resorts just ignored me and just try and forget about it.' There were others that talked people out of going to the police."

In Baldas' report, she wrote properties owned by Sandals Resorts International, which is a billion-dollar hospitality empire headquartered in Montego Bay, are among a slew of resorts where victims have said they mishandled their sexual assault claims.

The newspaper laid out some eight separate incidents — including one involving an 18-year-old au pair who said she was raped at one of Sandals' resorts. In that case, Baldas wrote the teen's host American family received $25,000 from Sandals and they signed a nondisclosure agreement to remain quiet about the incident.

Sandals has not commented about any specific claims of sexual assault, according to the Detroit Free Press, but said they follow an eight-step procedure when a guest reports a crime. They also said in a statement that there's "nothing more important than the safety and security of our guests" and "in no way does Sandals discourage guests or others from reporting allegations of criminal conduct to law enforcement or from cooperating with law enforcement investigations."

Another case involved newlyweds from New Jersey who filed a $30 million lawsuit stemming from a sexual assault in 2016 at a Sandals resort in the Bahamas, according to the New York Post. The bride claims a resort butler allegedly went into her suite while she was asleep and molested her while her husband was in the bathroom.

Sandals responded to the civil complaint and said it served the victims' "one-sided and incomplete version of an incident reported in 2016" and confirmed they had contacted police and "fired the employee in question."

It's not just Sandals. The newspaper has called out sexual assault allegations at the Grand Bahia Principe of the Spanish-owned Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts; Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa and Sunscape Splash Montego Bay of Philadelphia-based AMResorts; and Hotel Riu Reggae in Montego Bay, part of Riu Hotels & Resorts based in Spain.

Baldas told CBSN her investigation was sparked from two people who claim they were sexually assaulted this fall.

"We had two women from Detroit in Jamaica in October and they raped at gunpoint inside an all-inclusive resort," Baldas said. "When they went to the front desk, they said, 'We never heard of this.' When they went to the police, they said, 'We never heard of this.' … that's what triggered this whole investigation."

Baldas said many victims, who happen to be young women, still struggle with their traumatic experience.

"There's still a lot of crying over it … are we at fault … victim blaming, victim shaming," Baldas told CBSN.

The U.S. State Department has questioned Jamaica's ability to address the sexual assault problem, Baldas wrote.

"The resorts aren't doing enough to help the injured obtain justice, victims claim, arguing a change in attitudes about sex crimes and protocol for handling them is long overdue in Jamaica," Baldas said in her report. "The resorts have not taken sexual assault seriously, they say, and they have the scars, payoffs, legal forms and unanswered emails to prove it."

First published on December 17, 2018

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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