Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"If it's dangerous, the government should be warning tourists..."

Who is responsible for the safety of tourists -- the government or the tourists themselves?

Many people are asking this question following the death of 15 year-old Scarlett Keeling at a tourist resort in Goa, India. For those of you not familiar with the case, here's a brief overview of what happened:
  • A British family is on vacation at a resort in Goa. The mother leaves daughter with a 25-year old male tour guide while she goes to tour another location.
  • Keeling is last seen leaving a beach bar early in the morning, allegedly drunk.
  • The unfortunate teen is found dead.
  • Authorities claim her death was an accidental drowning.
  • The teen's mother, Fiona MacKeown, claims her daughter was raped and murdered and is calling for further investigation.
A quick google search of "rape" and "India" revealed numerous stories throughout January and February of tourists who were sexually assaulted-- including stories published in local papers such as the Hindustan Times. Keeling became the latest victim in a growing trend of violence against women.

It's a horrific situation to be sure. However, as the investigation continues so too does the finger pointing, according to an article in the Times Online.

On one side is chief minister
of Goa, Digambar Kamat, claiming that foreign women need to take more responsibility for their safety -- such as not walking around alone after midnight when there is no police patrol on the beach or dressing inappropriately. “Foreign tourists have to be careful,” he says in the Time article. “They can’t just do these things and then blame the government for the consequences.

On the other side MacKeown is claiming that the government (of Goa) should be warning tourists about safety concerns. “If they are saying it’s dangerous for British people, then it’s the government’s responsibility to warn people,” she is quoted as saying. “There should be signs up, but there aren’t. Instead, it’s advertised as a hippy paradise, so you don’t feel it’s dangerous when you walk around.”

Also weighing in on the issue are numerous readers (from both Britain and India) on the Times Online site. Many posts criticize the mother for leaving her under-aged daughter behind in the care of a stranger, or allowing her daughter to be wandering around drunk if the first place. Others describe dangerous circumstances and male predators in Goa, as well as a lack of cultural awareness and modesty on the part of women travellers. One post even points to the carelessness (or arrogance) of travellers in taking their safety for granted when they are abroad.

Who is right? Perhaps everyone is, or no one is. The issue of "why wasn't I warned?" versus "the information is out there, why didn't you look?" seems to creep up every time a tourist is a victim of an accident, illness, crime, sexual assault or other incident. There's no easy answer, but the questions highlight the need for better safety and security awareness.

My condolences to Keeling's family. I hope her attackers are caught.

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