A Dutch couple was holidaying in Polhena, Matara early this month. The 25-year-old woman and her husband in the early 30s, were relaxing on the beach, when the husband decided to visit the nearby market.
A little while after the husband had left, the lone woman on the beach was approached by a guest house owner who told her there was a spa nearby and, if she was interested, to follow him. Not suspecting anything, she had followed the man. Once inside the ‘spa’, the woman was sexually abused. The husband, on his return, encountered a distraught wife who related the sordid crime committed on her.
The couple made a written complaint to the Matara police, but, as their visas were expiring on the following day, they had to return to their country and hence could not pursue the case further.
The Matara police arrested the hotelier (identified as one Ruwan) and produced him in Courts, where he was initially remanded and later released on bail.
Southern Hoteliers Association has raised concern over the increasing number of sexual abuse against foreign women. File pic of a foreigner sunbathing on a beach down south
Police said they were following the case, despite the absence of the complainant. There was concern from the Netherlands Embassy as well as from women’s rights groups about the incident.
Netherlands Embassy First Secretary Jaco Beerends said, “The sexual abuse of a female Dutch national at a guest house in Matara can be considered a ‘terrible’ incident and the authorities must act upon any incident that concerns the safety of tourists arriving in the country.”
“One such incident can create a huge impact, as safety is the important factor for a tourist on vacation, and we are concerned of the safety of Dutch nationals,” he said. Mr. Beerends said there will be no change in the travel advisory, as this is an isolated incident.
According to him, 291,000 tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2011, from Western Europe, mostly from Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. “There is a growing number of tourist arrivals from the Netherlands. Recently, a Dutch tour operator has made arrangements for direct trips from the Netherlands to Sri Lanka. Tourists from Western Europe are known for long stays and spending more,” he said.
He said the victim did not contact the Embassy after the incident. “As they have lodged a complaint with the police, we believe the authorities will inquire into the incident,” he concluded.
Condemning the incident, Southern Hoteliers Association president Priyankara Wickremasekare said there is a need to increase the number of tourist police officers and a mechanism or body to monitor unlicensed tourist guest houses.
“More police officers should be deployed in places where community tourism takes place, where tourists build close contacts with the people in the area. These incidents do not take place in known tourist zones like Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna, but in newly developed tourist zones like Tangalle and Madiha. People in these rural areas have the idea that European women can be approached easily,” he said. He said that authorities should take all measures to prevent these incidents
“In this case, a motel owner was involved in the sexual abuse. There are unprofessional motel owners within the tourist industry, with no tourist body to guide or train them, or set a code of ethics. There are no laws in place in this regard,” Mr. Wickremasekare said.
According to him, unlicensed guest houses do not come under the supervision of the Tourist Authority, as they have failed to meet the required standards. UNP Lakvanitha Movement president Ms. Shanthini Kongahage, this week, handed over a petition to the Child Development & Women’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karalliyadda, expressing concern about incidents of rape and sexual abuse of locals as well foreigners visiting the country.
“If women coming to Sri Lanka, looking for hospitality, are being raped or sexually abused, that would not augur well for the country. We are worried about mothers and daughters,” the petition said.
The organisation called upon the Minister to take action to prevent the increasing number of cases of sexual abuse of children and women.