By Nadia Fazlulhaq–
Last week’s alleged rape of a 47-year old woman in Wijerama and an attempted rape of a 25-year old German tourist in Chilaw, have once again raised the question, how safe are women in our country—both local and foreign. According to statistics, five rapes are reported daily while the unreported cases could make the figure higher.
Among the women’s’ group workers and activists who spoke to the Sunday Times, Lak Vanitha Front president Shanthini Kongahage voicing concern said many women relied on three-wheeler drivers to ask for road directions. She said many of them also opted to take three wheelers for short distances especially if they were too exhausted to travel home after work in over crowded buses. “ It is unfortunate for a woman to be a victim of rape at around 7.30 p.m. near a place close to the Colombo city,” she said commenting on the incident in Wijerama.
“There were a number of rape and murder cases in Kahawatte last year and a female foreigner was raped by a gang that included the Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman. Though investigations were conducted with regard to the rape there was no final report,” she said.
Tourists enjoying the sun and the sand on a beach in the South. Incidents of sexual harassmnt of foreigners have been on the rise.
Sherine Samarasooriya of Voice of Women said it was important to join and actively get involved in a public outcry against rapists.
“When we travel to villages, women plead with us to open up shelters where they can spend the night when they are chased away by their drunken husbands at night. Similarly these shelters should be put up for women who travel long distances. The state should support organisations to initiate such programmes,” she said.
Women and Media Collective’s Dr. Sepali Kottegoda said since the gang rape of Rita John in the late 90’s there have been thousands of reported rapes and murders but unfortunately there hasn’t been enough public reaction and activism.
“Politicians are often ignorant of the fact that rape cases are increasing in the country and most often local politicians or their goons are involved. There is a tendency of justifying the crime stating that the victim is a sex worker. Nobody, not even a sex worker should be subject to rape,” she charged.
This increasing trend could drive away female tourists, especially Europeans who choose the country as a getaway holiday destination. On Wednesday, a 25 year-old German national who was holidaying in Iranawila, Chilaw narrowly escaped being raped by a local while she was sunbathing on the beach.
According to Chilaw police the foreigner was part of a group who had come to the country a couple of days before and who had chosen a beach front motel in Chilaw. On Wednesday (30) evening she had been lying on the beach enjoying the sunset, when the 28-year-old suspect had jumped on her body and attempted to allegedly rape her. However the woman had managed to kick the suspect and run to the motel. The suspect was arrested and produced in courts.
A European national who works as a gender consultant in Sri Lanka told the Sunday Times that a number of European women who come as tourists complain of being harassed but most do not go to the extent of complaining to police fearing it would ruin their holiday.
“A white girlfriend was really shocked and angered after a man on a motorbike grabbed her breasts outside her apartment and a lot of my friends get routinely stopped on the street and accused of prostitution for merely being a white female,” she charged.
She said while the increasing incidents of rape were horrendous and sickening, the incidents were examples of how the country ignores and accepts violence against women and girls across the country. “This would be the same with foreign women as most men here assume that white women are there solely for their pleasure,” she said.
In recent years there have been many cases of foreign women being raped. On Christmas Eve, 2011, a British national was killed and his foreign companion allegedly gang raped by a group led by Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman.
Similarly, the same year, another five men were arrested while attempting to molest a 23-year-old Swedish national who was walking on the beach in Negombo. Another woman from New Zealand reported being harassed in Mihintale where two men had tried to drag her to a public toilet while her husband was not in sight.
A South African tourist was allegedly raped by hotel employee in Kalptiya, while another incident was reported from Odiha, Matara where the motel owner had attempted to rape a 25 year-old Dutch tourist.
According to statistics from the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority, tourists from Western Europe top the list of tourists in 2011 and 2012. Last year, 373,063 had arrived in the country with the vast majority from Britain, Germany and France followed by South Asian tourists.
Meanwhile Tourist Police Director SSP Maxi Proctor said it was important to take harassment related complaints seriously and implement new measures to curb the rising menace. “We are in the process of establishing Tourist Police posts in all tourist-oriented destinations from coastal areas to inland areas like Nuwara-Eliya, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa,” he said.
At present there are only two police posts, in Hikkaduwa and Negombo. According to him, new posts will be established in Mount Lavinia and Arugam Bay too. SSP Proctor said new emergency hotline numbers would be introduced and given to tourists at the airport enabling them to report any harassment or attempted rape during their stay.
“There have been complaints with regard to harassment especially by beach boys and masseurs,” he said. Yuveraj Athukorale, director (media) of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (formerly Tourist Board) said there have been complaints of harassment especially from groups of men in three-wheelers and men who pose as masseurs.
“Tourists who lodge in cheap motels are often victims of such violence. It is important to stay in Tourist Board-approved resorts and motels. We have requested the police to raid massage parlours especially in tourist destinations. Tourists can also call our hotline 1912,” he said.
Meanwhile Tourist Hotels Association Past President Srilal Miththapala said there have been reports of attempted rapes in the recently declared tourist destinations.
“Places like Tangalle, Chilaw and Matara are among the newly declared tourist zones and there are many inland tourist zones as well. There are huge cultural differences and people in the areas still believe that white skin means promiscuity, especially because of their independence, attire and body language,” he added.
He said tourist hotels were willing to support the police in educating the public in these areas. National Mental Health Institute Director Dr. Jayan Mendis said the country failed to provide therapy to rapists apart from the prison sentence or bail. “Rape is not about uncontrolled lust. It’s about control over another person and an opportunistic act of violence,” he said adding that rapists are those with personality disorders and even after being released to the society after serving prison sentence, they tend to commit the same crime unless the person goes through intense therapy.
According to United States’ Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 50–90 percent of rapes go unreported and about six percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
The Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement that in Sri Lanka while there is a public acknowledgement of the existence of widespread lawlessness involving particularly shocking offences against women, the public itself reacts to these events apathetically.
“There is no energetic pursuit of justice or demands for accountability from the government. While the rest of the south Asian countries are rising to demand better performance from their governments and the creation of efficiently functioning law enforcement agencies to protect all citizens with particular emphasis on the more vulnerable groups such as women, in Sri Lanka crimes continue to take place with impunity,” the report said.
Courtesy Sunday Times