Sri Lanka is truly the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ and has become quite popular in the backpacking world. Men, as well as women, resort to traveling solo to the island. While traveling solo is a great way to unleash your true self, it comes with a price.
Despite being a victim of 25 years of brutal civil war, the country is emerging as a remarkably safe place to travel. However, no matter how many safety measures the government deploys, there are still a lot of tourists who become a victim of untoward incidents, violent crime, and sexual abuse.
Every now and then, the internet is filled with stories of women describing the harassment and injustice they faced on their holiday to Sri Lanka. Despite the legal system and laws pertaining to the safety of tourists in Sri Lanka, it’s appalling to hear horrific accounts narrated by them.
Such incidents make fellow women travelers feel intimated. If women want to travel solo to Sri Lanka, they should be able to it without any doubt or fear in their mind.
Thus, don’t refrain from traveling to the island only because of some touts and street hustlers. Instead, be aware of your surroundings and know your rights as a tourist traveling to Sri Lanka. A little caution goes a long way in ensuring your safety.
If you ever feel like you are in a tricky situation, immediately file a complaint at a police station near you and the harasser will face serious consequences.
Important Number: Emergency Numbers
Common Scams in Sri Lanka
Just like any other developing nation, petty theft and scams are common in Sri Lanka. As a tourist, it is important for you to be alert at all times.
Thus, even before running you through the security measures you can take, we’ve listed the types of crimes and scams tourists are prone to face in Sri Lanka.
- Petty theft: Petty theft is less common in Sri Lanka than many other parts of Asia. However, it still does exist. At all times, you must take responsibility for your belongings. Pickpockets are mainly founded in crowded areas. Few travelers have also reported theft from their hotel rooms. We would recommend depositing your valuables in the safe provided in the hotel rooms. If you are a woman traveling solo, avoid dark and secluded beaches at night. In this aspect, Negombo and Hikkaduwa particularly have bad reputations.
- Credit card scams: Credit card fraud is a grave risk for visitors. Use cash wherever possible. You could also withdraw from an ATM close-by. In case you hand over your credit card to the manager of a hotel, make sure you never lose sight of it. Chances of duplicating your credit card information are high.
- Visa scams: Despite tourist visas being available on arrival, it is always better to obtain one online beforehand. It saves you time and you can directly breeze through immigration. When you arrive at Colombo International Airport, make sure you are aware of the visa fee for your country. Some officials scam naïve tourists by overcharging them.
- Other scams and hassles: It’s unfortunate but scams and hassles in Sri Lanka are quite common. From tuk-tuk drivers to gem shop owners and guesthouse touts, all are experts at cheating tourists. They often start by being overly friendly with you. Once they feel like they’ve won your confidence, they persuade you to stay in their shop or visit their guesthouse. Most tuk-tuk drivers say they are an official government-run but end up taking you to secluded places to rob you or stores where they will get a commission. You’ll find the maximum con artists in Galle, Kandy, and Colombo Galle Face Green. Also, when you are booking a day tour or safari, make sure to book it from official travel agents. If you are taking a tuk-tuk somewhere, always haggle and agree on the price before you travel.
Off late, there has been an increasing number of cases of harassment of tourists and sexual abuse. There are a lot of western women who have reported incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. From making sexually suggestive advances to lewd comments and sexual assaults, sexual harassment of tourists is on the rise. There is no particular place that is unsafe. However, most of the incidents have been reported from tourist areas including market places, railway stations, public streets and bus stations.
There have also been reports of drinks spiked with drugs at bars and restaurants. Therefore, never leave your drink unattended and be careful about taking anything from strangers.
Sexual Assault of Tourists in Sri Lanka
In the past few years, the numbers of sexual harassment cases have been increasing in different parts of the island. Here are some of the cases that made national news:
- In 2018, a group of men, as well as women, visited a bar on Mirissa Beach. When the group was enjoying dinner and drinks, the waiters at the restaurant tried to grope the women and sexually harass them. After a while, more local guys began to inappropriately touch other tourist girls. The group even tried complaining to the bar owner but their pleas were brushed off. Other visitors to Mirissa said that such behavior by the beach boys is a common occurrence. When the group decided to leave the bar, a group of 8 to 10 locals mercilessly assaulted three women while the male friend was punched to the ground and repeatedly kicked. After the men escaped the scene, the victims came to their senses and lodged complaints with the Tourist Police via electronic mail.
- On Women’s Day this year (2019), another case of sexual harassment was reported from Mirissa. A middle-aged man is said to have grabbed a woman’s vagina. At first, the woman was confused about what was happening. She was just about coming to terms that she had just been sneakily molested in a roomful of people. The men around her claimed that the abuser was drunk. She immediately called a nearby police station. After hours of waiting, they finally arrived on the scene. However, they were of very little help to her and instead asked her to pay for their tuk-tuk from the point where the incident had occurred to the police station. The victim posted this incident on Facebook with the intention of creating awareness. The suspect was put behind bars at Kotawila Police Station (the same place where the report was filed). A Colombo Gazette article wrote that the suspect was released on bail for a further hearing on March 28. Though the woman will be out of the country by then, she found a little solace that the man will now need to face a judge for his actions.
Such incidents are frequent in Sri Lanka. However, tourists should try their best to teach the harassers and defaulters a lesson. There are many tourists who refrain from going through the entire ordeal of the legal process in Sri Lanka. Since they are visitors to the country, such incidents often go unreported and the abusers roam scot-free. There are many women who get away with it unharmed physical but mentally and emotionally get much shaken up.
We urge both men and women tourists to come out and report such incidents. The Sri Lankan legal system will try its best to secure justice and punish the offenders.
Please don’t let incidents like these change your plans of visiting Sri Lanka! The country is beautiful and the people too are extremely warm-hearted and friendly. It is just a few touts and rouges whom you need to be aware of. The solution is not to avoid the country but take measures to stop such incidents from occurring. The legal system should be looked into and the punishment for such acts should be made stringent.
One Billion Rising Campaign
In order to fight Sri Lanka’s pandemic of sexual violence, women in the country recently walked with placards that read “One Billion Rising”. The campaign aimed at bringing an end to violence against women. The groups also demanded that the government take action to curb rising rape, domestic violence, and gender-based attacks.
A poster campaign aiming to create awareness on how to be cautious while traveling and important contact details in an emergency situation was launched by Tourist Police Division, Colombo with British High Commission.
— Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (@sltda_srilanka) March 14, 2019
Travel safety Poster Campaign
A poster campaign aiming to create awareness on how to be cautious while traveling across the island and important contact details in an emergency situation were launched by Tourist Police Division, Colombo with the assistance of British High Commission in Sri Lanka.
The campaign will cover 45 identified railways stations, bus stops, Bandaranayake International Airport and popular tourist destinations across the country.
Women in Need Organisation
Women In Need (WIN) is a local, non-profit and non-governmental organisation dedicated to addressing issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV) faced by women and girls in Sri Lanka. WIN’s centres are located in Anuradhapura, Colombo, Badulla, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kandy and Matara. Their 24-hour hotline number is 011 471 85 85. They take calls in Sinhala, English, and Tamil.
Helpline for Women
On 1st March, the Women and Child Affairs Ministry Secretary announced that the operating hours of the helpline for women – 1938 – will be extended to 24 hours to receive complaints regarding any forms of discrimination against women, including harassment, abuse, and violence. Before this, it was only operational from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
Sri Lanka’s Legal Aid Commission found that Sri Lanka has the highest rate of sexual harassment in South Asia, and South/East Asia has the second highest rate of gender-based violence worldwide.
The impact of sexual violence on tourists and locals has serious consequences not only for the victims but for the country’s national welfare too.
In order to combat such incidents, perpetrators must face legal as well as social repercussions. The government has to increase the legal accountability and society too must play a role in addressing the problem. Instead of telling a woman not to wear a certain kind of clothing or not to visit places at night, men should be taught a lesson. Seminars should be held to make it clear to them that sexual violence is not normal, not respectable and not acceptable.
In case you find yourself in a critical situation, here are some emergency numbers you can have on your phone’s speed dial when traveling to Sri Lanka.
Crime and sexual abuse should not just stop in Sri Lanka but everywhere around the world too. If you’ve encountered an untoward incident in Sri Lanka, let us know the details in the comment section below. Also, we would be thankful if you could mention the safety measures you took and the authorities you contacted.
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