Sandals Resorts denies rape claim cover-ups in Jamaica
The rapes of two Detroit women at a Jamaican resort has highlighted a pervasive problem on the island getaway: sexual assaults are ignored. Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press
Sandals’ comments are in response to a Free Press investigation that found that Sandals and other Jamaican resorts have silenced multiple alleged sexual assault victims over the years, discouraging them from calling police and offering free trips and refunds in exchange for signing nondisclosure agreements.
Sandals says there’s “nothing more important than the safety and security of our guests” and that all sexual assault and harassment claims “are fully reported to law enforcement.”
Jamaica is home to Sandals Resorts International, a family-owned, billion-dollar hospitality empire that is headquartered in Montego Bay and has 24 properties in seven Caribbean countries; 10 of them are on Jamaica’s north coast, including three Beaches resorts, the company’s family-friendly brand. Sandals views itself as the “undisputed leader” of the Caribbean vacation experience and proudly boasts of its founder’s influence on Jamaica, noting on its website that Sandals Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart spearheads 24 companies, including a newspaper, “that are collectively Jamaica’s largest private sector group, the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner, and its largest nongovernment employer.”
The Free Press cited eight incidents in which victims allege that Sandals did not handle their sexual assault complaints properly and failed to help them obtain justice, including an 18-year-old au pair who says Sandals paid her host American family $25,000 and had them sign a nondisclosure agreement vowing to never discuss her alleged rape at a resort over the summer.
Sandals said it could not comment on any specific incident, citing privacy issues, though it denied not reporting sexual assaults to police and discouraging guests from doing so. It also said that in the rare event that a guest reports a crime, including sexual assault, this protocol is followed:
- immediately assign a dedicated resort team member to address the guest’s situation and coordinate assistance to help meet the guest’s needs;
- ensure the guest has immediate access to medical attention, including, when appropriate, transportation to a hospital;
- immediately contact law enforcement so that the guest can report the criminal conduct to authorities and a police investigation can ensue;
- preserve the physical area where reported violence occurred and make the area available for inspection and examination by law enforcement;
- immediately turn over security video surveillance footage to law enforcement for their review;
- fully cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation of the reported incident;
- contact the guest’s embassy, high commission or consulate and local tourist board to inform it of the reported incident
- offer counseling to the guest when appropriate.
“Our policies are clear — all reported incidents of sexual assault and harassment are fully reported to law enforcement, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted by the authorities. This is a core element of our incident response protocol,” Sandals states. “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.”
Moreover, the company states: “Refunds are not offered to guests who report being victims of criminal assault where an active law enforcement investigation or prosecution is underway. Where there is no active criminal investigation or prosecution, on rare occasions, we do offer refunds or similar compensation when our guests feel that we did not meet expectations which may include releases and confidentiality, as is industry practice.”
Sandals also said it has state-of-the-art security systems, including 24-hour closed circuit TV surveillance systems at all resorts; uniformed security guards posted at each resort; background checks of all job applicants, including a criminal record search and evaluation of their social/online history; a zero-tolerance policy for fraternization by personnel with guests and mandatory sexual harassment training for all staff.
“We also have a zero-tolerance policy for any sexual misconduct by our personnel, whether on or off the resort,” the company said.
But the U.S. State Department has questioned Jamaica’s ability to do anything about the sexual assault problem, noting its police force is considered “underpaid, poorly trained and understaffed.”
“Reporting crime can seem archaic,” the State Department has stated. “And the confusing, lengthy process is widely believed to be a waste of time.”