Tuesday, April 30, 2013

China: Three Foreign Tourists Killed in Bus Accident in Hunan Province, 11 Passengers Injured, Treated

According to India's http://www.zeenews.com, three foreign women tourists, two Taiwanese and one Chinese-American, were killed earlier today (April 30) when their bus overturned and fell from a cliff in central China's Hunan Province. 

The accident occurred at approximately 1100 hours when a  tour bus carrying 16 passengers, including a local driver and a tour guide, six Taiwanese tourists and eight Chinese-American tourists, slid on the roadway and fell from a height of ten meters (32 feet) in Hanshou.

COMMENT: As most of our readers know, tour-bus accidents are among the most frequently occurring road accidents in developing countries, influenced heavily by reduced maneuverability, road safety enforcement, driving skills and vehicular maintenance.

To make matters worse in this particular case, the vehicle was traveling during a heavy rain, which also contributed to the accident.  Prudence should have dictated that the driver stop the vehicle temporarily and let the storm pass before proceeding on.

Additionally, eleven passengers were also injured in the accident and were being treated in two local hospitals in Changde. The bus was heading from the provincial capital of Changsha at the time.

Incidents such as this are also a reminder that all foreign tourists should subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage, as is often the case, medical treatment is often withheld pending a guarantee of payment before the fact. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Brazil: Update--American Tourist, 21, Gang-Raped in Rio, French Male Companion, 23, Severely Beaten

According to The New York Times, and as a follow-up to my posting of yesterday (April 1), concerning the gang-rape of an American tourist, 21, by three assailants, as well as a severe beating sustained by her French partner, 23, shortly after midnight on Friday (March 29), the couple was abducted, assaulted and robbed.

Additionally, the male partner was beaten with a lead pipe and forced to watch his girlfriend being repeatedly raped.

Subsequent to the gang-rape, the couple was forced to use bank cards to withdraw money from their accounts before the assailants finally freed them at a bus station on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. 

While the couple was traveling on a collectivo late on Saturday night, the driver and two other suspects forced other passengers out of the van (which picks up passengers along the street and can seat about a dozen people) and began taking turns raping the American student as other suspects took over the driving. 

After the couple were freed about 0600 hours on Saturday and left at a bus station, the woman was taken to two public hospitals for treatment, including the administering of a cocktail of drugs containing the morning-after pill, to prevent pregnancy, and other medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

COMMENT: Knowing Rio as well as I do, after covering Latin America for roughly 25 years, I was stunned when the city was selected to host not only the 2014 World Cup, but the 2016 Olympics as well. Rio is a city abundant with unchecked violence and ineffective and corrupt policing.

Two suspects were arrested over the weekend, one of whom reportedly confessed to the rape of the 21-year-old woman. Police said she had been in Brazil on a student visa. A third suspect was arrested on Monday night (April 1).

The gang-rape follows closely to recent gang-rape of a Swiss tourist in India and the attempted rape of an American tourist there as well, not to mention the gang-rape and murder of an Indian medical student, 23,
in December 2012, on a moving bus in New Delhi.
As reported previously, roughly 35% of female tourists who had planned to visit India have cancelled their reservations.

The rape victim in the nicident described above left Brazil after registering the crime and undergoing preliminary medical treatment, while her French companion remained in Rio, where he is cooperating with the police.

The two suspects who were apprehended over the weekend were arrested after investigators tracked purchases made with the victims’ credit cards, which were stolen by the assailants, and examined images obtained from security cameras at a filling station and convenience store where the men had stopped to buy energy drinks and whiskey.

Interestingly, a Brazilian student, 21, said she had similarly been held for an hour and raped by the same men on March 23, after boarding the van they had used. Two police officials in charge of investigating the March 23 case were abruptly removed from their posts on Monday (April 1).

More broadly, reports of forcible rape in Brazil have risen dramatically since 2009, when the nation’s criminal code was changed to expand the legal definition of rape to include crimes involving anal penetration. 

More than 5,300 people, about 90% of whom are women, registered cases of rape in the first six months of 2012, an increase of more than 150% since 2009. 

For the benefit of our readers, the following suggestions are offered in terms of reducing the risk of sexual assault and rape:

1. Don't drink alcoholic beverages to the excess, particularly at night and in countries that are unfamiliar to you;

2. Don't frequent bars or taverns alone, as it is a common practice on the part of sexual predators
to use date-rape drugs to immobilize victims;

3. Consider taking a self-defense course from a reputable police agency or security firm;

4. Women alone should travel in the company of others whenever possible;

5. Avoid walking in poorly illuminated areas;

6. For women, identify the threat of sexual assault and rape before you decide to visit a specific country;

7. For women, consider traveling safely in small groups of women: 


Stay in safe, reputable accommodations;

9. Learn about the neighborhoods you'll be traveling in: Get a map and study it. Know where safe places are to go to in an emergency; and

10. Find potential travel partners through professional associations and clubs that are reputable and respected.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Staying Safe Abroad" Editor/Author Ed Lee to be Hospitalized

COMMENT: For all of our loyal readers at STAYING SAFE ABROAD, I would like everyone to know that I'll be undergoing open-heart surgery on April 3, to replace a severely leaking aortic valve.

Thus, I may be off-line for perhaps a ten-day period, but expect to be back in the saddle in no time at all, offering commentary on how we as travelers can be safe while enjoying the enrichment that foreign travel brings.



India: Foreign Tourism Drops 25% Since December, Women Predominantly, Security Issues Cited

According to The Telegraph, A survey by Indian chambers of commerce has revealed that a 35% decline in the numbers of female foreign tourists since a a young medical student, 23, was raped and mutilated in December 2012, by six assailants on a moving Delhi bus before she was dumped on the road and left to die. 

The attack provoked protests throughout India and forced the government to introduce new tougher sentences for sexual assaults on women and fast-track courts to reassure women it was concerned for their safety. It also led India’s media to give greater prominence to reporting rape and sexual assault cases amid wider soul searching about the attitude of India’s men and families to women.
COMMENT: As most of our regular readers, one gang-rape of a foreign tourist and the attempted rape of another in recent weeks has "flagged" India's apparent toleration of sexual crime and abuses against women.

Of 1,200 tourist businesses surveyed more than 70% reported significant numbers of cancellations from British, American, Australian and Canadian women tourists, and a 25% decline over all.

The decline and the plummeting reputation of India as a safe tourist destination is a blow to the government which had expected tourist numbers to increase by 12% in 2013 as part of its plan to double foreign exchange earnings by 2016. More than six million foreign tourists visited India last year and helped generate more than £10 billion for the country’s economy.

The country’s reputation was damaged further when a number of foreign governments, including Britain, changed their travel advice to citizens following the gang rape on the Swiss woman last month. While they had previously urged women traveling alone to be cautious, following the attack they warned even those traveling in groups may not be safe.

Although it is commendable that many foreign governments have increased the candor of their travel warnings on India, the reality is that sexual assault on women, both residents and foreign, has been on the rise in India for over ten years, after a Swiss diplomat was raped in the capital.

As I have said extensively over the years, although solo travel by both genders may offer solace, contemplation and personal space, the reality is that the world is increasingly becoming perilous, which often leaves solo travelers vulnerable to violent acts with irreversible results.

Brazil: Foreign Couple Abducted, Robbed, Woman Raped in Rio's Copacabana

According to http://www.hispanicallyspeakingnews.com, two Brazilians have been arrested for abducting and robbing a foreign couple and raping the woman during the early morning hours of Saturday (March 30) aboard a rented mini-bus used for public transportation. Additionally, the rape victim's boyfriend was also severely beaten.

Jonathan Foudakis de Souza, 20, and Wallace Aparecido Souza Silva, 22, were arrested in the neighboring city of São Gonzalo on Saturday night, just a few hours after the incident occurred. The victims identified the two suspects, one of whom was the driver of the mini-bus.

The incident reportedly occurred while the couple were riding from Copacabana to Lapa, a section of Rio de Janeiro  known for it nightlife. 

The assailants ordered the other passengers to get off the mini-bus in the Botafogo district of the city and subsequently took the two victims to the nearby city of Niteroi, holding them hostage for six hours, while the woman was raped and the couple abducted, robbed and beaten. The victims were later abandoned in Itaborai, another Rio suburb, where they requested assistance from police.

COMMENT: Tragically, this account is yet another example of unchecked violence against foreign tourists, similar in tactics to what we've seen in India of late, half a world away.

Fortunately, the victims were able to promptly identify the mini-bus that enabled police to identify the owner of the vehicle who rented it for public transportation. FYI: In most developed nations, such practices are not permitted.

When arrested later on Saturday, one of the suspects still was in possession of the female tourist's mobile phone.

Coincidentally, a Brazilian woman went to the same police station and reported being raped a week earlier by the two suspects on the same mini-bus.

The woman later saw the suspects' photos on the Internet and recognized them as the individuals who picked her up in a mini-bus in Copacabana, abducted and raped her, and later left her in São Gonzalo. 

From a standpoint of lessons-learned, using collectivos, or mini-vans that operate on fixed routes for a small amount of money in a variety of countries, is generally a BAD idea, largely because the drivers of such vehicles are not licensed and vetted, as are taxis.

Although collectivos are a cheap way of getting around in low-risk destinations, I discourage their use in high-crime rate cities such as Rio and São Paulo, because they place a large group of strangers in close proximity to each other, thereby
permitting drivers and passengers to evaluate possible crime targets.

Admittedly, licensed taxis may cost a bit more, but they are much safer, particularly if  dispatched by cell-phone or radio or operate from established, luxury hotels.

As I have said in so many postings in the past,  NO city is "safe." Thus, it is incumbent upon travelers to make wise choices when it comes to selecting the wide range of transportation options that are available. Unfortunately, choosing badly can have adverse results.

Hailing taxis in most developed countries is NOT suggested, but asking friends who have been to the country what form of transportation they used can be helpful,
although asking one's embassy or consulate for the names of reliable and reasonably-priced taxi services is probably a more prudent thing to do. 

If one does not want to take the time to visit their embassy or consulate, another safe approach is to go to your foreign affairs agency's or embassy website before initiating travel, as many of them offer information on traveling safely in the country, including listing suggested modes of transportation.

Finally, ALWAYS pick up free tourist literature which may very well explain a safe way of getting around the city and country.

In a pinch, asking a well-dressed local how to get around safely is also not a bad idea.