Is Sri Lanka fast becoming a perverts’ paradise?

Tourists complain about sexual harassment on all levels 

Sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka sexual harassment is on the increase. Locals and tourists alike more often than not have to fight off sexual advances and lewd verbal comments aimed at them. Travelling on public transport can be a hellish experience for women as public transport seems to be a magnet for sexual predators. Touching, exposing one's genitals, commenting, engaging in sexual innuendo, following, pestering can all be perceived as forms of sexual harassment. For those visiting Sri Lanka, these forms of harassment can be overwhelming and is simply not acceptable. Visit any hostel or hotel and one of the most common threads of conversation is harassment experienced at the hands of tuk drivers, bus conductors, passers by and even occasionally tour guides. Complaints to the tourist police often fall on deaf ears and many tourists do not have confidence in the authorities to resolve their complaints of harassment in a timely manner. 

Recently a social media site carried a heartfelt plea from Liz, a visiting tourist who reported that many sites are warning female travellers against visiting Sri Lanka due to the harassment they may face in Sri Lanka.

"Down south you will be harassed every hour of every day from everyone from small boys to old men (not only tuk drivers and beach boys) even if you're fully covered. Tourism is growing fast but so is also this problem. And rumours are spreading internationally. Unfortunately, the government denies it ever happens and are telling travel agents and embassies etc that no tourists have had any problems. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and female tourists should feel safe and welcome. What can we do?" beseeched Liz in a heartfelt plea. 

Her post attracted a raft of comments from locals and tourists alike who all shared their experiences and suggestions as to what the authorities could do. Tourism is on the increase in Sri Lanka with the country being included in many top ten places to visit lists. This growing menace of sexual harassment has to be properly addressed instead of the authorities adopting an ostrich approach and pretending this does not happen. The Tourist Police should act immediately on complaints of harassment and the culprit fined - not a cursory Rs. 1000 fine but much more. There should be a powerful deterrent as a punishment so that these social misfits will never perpetrate such a crime against women ever. How do we resolve this growing menace? Should the education system address this issue or should parents take on more responsibility and teach their sons that it is not acceptable to harass females. For as long as the authorities continue to ignore this problem it will only increase and Sri Lanka will become a pervert's paradise. 

"Two of my guests both over 50 years of age were out shopping in Colombo. One of them got out to go to a shop whilst the other lady was waiting in the tuk. The driver turned around and started staring at her and proceeded to lift his sarong and masturbated whilst staring at her in the middle of Galle Road!" - Samantha 

"Harassment is rampant, but there are some things you can do. First, know where you are at all times. If you're getting in a tuk or bus, know where you're going. Second, practice 'resting bitch face', I'm serious. Keep a slightly pissed off look on your face and hold your head high. Look fierce and unapproachable. If someone does attempt to talk to you in an unwanted way, look them directly in the face and talk back. They don't expect that. They are used to women scurrying off. Last, never underestimate the power of well timed profanity. That usually sets them running. Basically, exercise common sense that you would exercise any where else in the world. From what I've found after living here for over a decade is that harassment is 99% verbal. Very very rarely will it go further than that. So stand tall and don't give them the fear they expect. Obviously, much more needs to be done in the way of education on that matter. Often the way of dealing with problems in Sri Lanka is to pretend they don't exist!" - Jessica 

"Thanks for bringing this up. Sexual harassment is a massive problem in this country not only for tourists but even for us local women. The problem is getting worse by the way. As a women who travels by bus and walks on the streets, I experience some sort of harassment, even verbal, almost every time I go out and have experienced physical harassment numerous times. I personally do not know what can be done to fight the problem as a whole but I have learnt to shout at them loud if they approach me personally. Even my Italian friend was here for one week and she too got harassed within that short time. I agree with you that the tourism factor is going to lose big time if this continues." - Tashii 

"A very close relative of mine is a member of a couchsurfing group and this harassment problem is being discussed, feared and experienced no matter your age, marital status or even the way you dress. It is true that many who love Sri Lanka stay away from visiting or cut down their planned stay and travelled to other countries. Why not? There are equally scenic, low cost countries in Asia. True, it happens everywhere but we are a country trying to improve the economic situation, tourism and income for many less educated who depend on tourism related businesses. I really believe that this harassment problem is deep rooted too much in every corner." - Chamini 

"We are Sri Lankan and my mother is 75 years old, and in the recent past, a man on a motorbike stopped her and tried to give her his number. Mum said he was easily in his late 20s. She was horrified and quite shaken. Imagine when a 75 year old in a long lungi cannot walk in Nugegoda without being harassed!" - Manuo 

"The crux of the problem is that sex education isn't taught in schools and most Sri Lankan parents consider the subject taboo. Naturally these young men and women are thrown into the deep end no sooner they get a smartphone. Their impression of white women is what they see on porn. Then they have this misinformed idea that all foreign women in their country are looking for just one thing. That said, Sri Lankan women are equally subject to harassment. So it's a societal issue. Rural Sri Lanka has a high prevalence of incest. It's a sad situation compounded by a chauvinistic society and an indifferent enforcement apparatus." - Christine 

"The problem is not really the lack of sexual education but too much unsupervised access to the Internet. I've heard of an 11 year old boy from a low income family, living out of Colombo who was hooked on porn. Parents may not be able even to identify the problem that access to smartphones create!" - Kshanika 

"The problem is repressed sexuality as in all South Asian countries as women are not supposed to have sex before marriage." - Ani 

"A few years back, I was in Negombo with my wife and son, visiting friends who own a beach hotel. They went for a walk from the hotel to the shore, while I was enjoying a beer at the bar with my friends. My wife was completely dressed, only shoes off and pants rolled up to half calf. There was a concert going on at the public beach nearby, so there was a large crowd there, and many people swarming around. At some point one bypasser moved towards my wife and touched her breast. My 12 year old son tried to chase the culprit as he ran into the crowd at the concert. My wife ran to me in shock and told me what was happening. I went to take my son out of the crowd before something worse could even happen.This is just one episode which didn't turn dramatic, but the shock for a woman to be harassed this way is really huge. It's really sad to see how they do not understand that it's the best way to drag the international reputation of the country and its population down the loo." - Giuseppe 

"Growing up here, I and most of the women I know have experienced groping from a young age (in talking 8/9/10). I had a guy put his hand up my skirt when I was 12 and been groped periodically for the last 15 something years. It's a sad state that women here become somewhat desensitized to it and learn to move on because it's usually blamed on the victim or taken as you being a nuisance if you complain." - Ahn 

"No matter a tourist or local, harassment is cruel and illegal. Invading personal space is a criminal offence. That is why people need to raise awareness among others to has situational awareness and some kind of self defense. Look at what Damini Project - Sri Lanka is trying to do. Words are fancy. Action speak louder than words!" - Thithira 

"Sadly, it is thought by many men here that white women are 'easy with their sexual favours' which is why white women are approached" - Heather 

"The 'majority' of Sri Lankans have an issue with accepting blame or wrong doing; owning up to issues... they have a "it's that guy's fault" mentality. The South specifically has a culture honed over decades of living off tourists - where rampant abuses occur, mostly unreported. We have to stop it, not the tourists. Let's face up to it and sort it out. And my apologies to those of you have faced such abuse in my country!" - Larry 

"This is not limited to foreign women. We do have a problem in Sri Lankan society when it comes to respecting the opposite sex. Old traditions, stone age beliefs and lack of legal solutions encourages this behaviour." - Sanjeewa 

"Regrettably - harassment is at all levels of society - women are perceived as 'weak' and 'submissive' - to change this perception is difficult - not impossible - the Sri Lankan male does not like confrontation - especially from a woman - It is time to get tough - stand strong!!!" - Renford 

"Initiatives should be taken in schools to educate the younger generation. I don't think it's viable to try and teach fully grown adults to behave after years of insanity where it has become a part of their lifestyle that they cannot differentiate between what's right and wrong. I believe strongly that all local woman should be educated and empowered to fight against this crisis, and after all it's them who raised these men. If someone can make a change, it's the women of this country (the men of this country have lost the plot). So then not today, but the next generation will definitely be well behaved and educated." - Muzakir 

"Education has to be started from the grassroot levels in all areas and also the security forces need to be very vigilant because it's the whole country which is losing." - Ahmed 

"As I'm riding a bike in Colombo and Weligama, the risk is increased by the guys that dangerously approach me, almost provoking accidents. Once, a tuktuk driver grabbing my bum. In other occasion, I pedaled fast enough to escape a group of more than 10. I'm struggling with harassment on all levels since I stepped into the country. I handle the situation the best I can but it is not something that we just have to cope with!" - Fernanda 

"I'm a Sri Lankan living in a popular tourist destination in Spain. In my restaurant, I have met 2 Scandinavian girls who have been raped in Sri Lanka and did not ever want to go back there again and worse is that they inform everyone against travelling there. Also met at least 10 others who have complained of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka. This is true and the authorities have to make new laws to protect foreigners as well as locals with strict law enforcement." - Fayaz

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the features writer for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno tinajourno@gmail.com

14 Comments

  1. ANTON says:

    OPEN MORE BROTHELS , THIS PROBLEM WILL BE SOLVED.

    • dinesh says:

      we wish it was that simple.....its a combination of bad upbringing (no respect for others)/its ok attitude all around/access to twisted p0rn, no wonder they think white women are easy, as most of p0rn show white women with insatiable appetite, obviously watching that, these idiots get their wires twisted and live in a fantasy world. so if a white women not around, haress a local one, until they come across a foreigner.

  2. ANTON says:

    THEY ARE GOING TO PROVE THE POWER OF TESTOSTERONE HORMONE OVER PROGESTERONE.

  3. Jessica says:

    This comment is not for the public but for the DM administration. It's ironic that you write about s***al harassment when on the online version of your newspaper what everyone can see are the lurid pictures relating to 's** dating'. DM, we thought was a highly respectable newspaper. But the pics you post are hardly that. They are an embarrassment to all decent females and furthermore, these pics can be seen by the young and impressionable and kids being naturally curious would want to see what it is all about. Most commentators talked here about teaching the young about respecting females from their young days. But do you honestly think as a responsible newspaper you're doing your part in promoting this? Just so you can get revenue from ads, do you have to advertise all sorts of filth which normally only tabloid papers would do. Come on DM, surely you can do better than that? Are you aiming to become rich and popular through trash? p.s. It's laughable that you don't even allow the word "s**" when we make comments, but YOU have no problem in not only mentioning those words but also publishing degrading pics of women. (lol) what kind of standard is that?

    • Myself says:

      HAHA - Jessica.. The ads showing on this page is not decided by the newspaper.. It is decided form your google search on your computer... So look yourself in the mirror (or whoever else using your computer) I see adds for banks, NAN and skincare :) :)

  4. DeeSK says:

    Wait, it gets worse Even most of the police officers are perverts,. I was waiting in the Tuk till my boyfriend comes and the cops harressed me trying to touch me and all that. My boyfriend comes in to help me and they threaten him too :/

  5. ANTON says:

    HEY ..... THIS JESSICA MADAM SURELY MUST BE AN ALIEN, WONDER FROM WHICH SOLAR SYSTEM SHE ARRIVED HERE ......... OK OK OK WELCOME TO OUR WORLD.... EVERY THING WILL BE OK ONCE YOU GET USED TO EXPERIENCING HORMOSARPIEN WAY.

    • Karen says:

      Your comments make a joke of a serious situation, I'm sure it's not a joke to the female members of your family

  6. Mass says:

    I'm agree With Anton on legalizing Brothel in Srilanka, or these ladies got to consider on wearing decent cloths instead wearing skin tight t shirts and skirts in a way that provoking our sexual feelings

    • Kasun says:

      Perhaps you should try to look at women as humans instead of consumable objects. Debate for legalising paid sex need to discuss afterwards with social discipline. It's not normal to harass sex workers to satisfy your uncontrolled needs either. Let's develop some discipline first.

  7. Pasha says:

    What? In Sri Lanka? really ? Unbelievable. I'll pretend that nothing of that sort happens here in the blessed island. We are experts that way. Sarcasm aside, I remember going to a exhibition with friends and was shocked when a guy bumped into a girl in our group and groped her breasts in broad daylight.

  8. Ric says:

    Nothing new it's always been there back in the 80.'s my girlfriend was ha assumed walking along the rail track ..the usual suspects the fishermen & the boys from the slum that lines some a the beach areas some a them have done well for them selves thanks to partnerships with foreighners they own hotels guest houses Tues vans you name it . Since its worked for them . Those working for them seem to think it's OK too . Word a advice watch where you go & who you hook up with or even seen with .. . Most people think a cheap room would be easy on the purse but could get weird on your nerves .. beach concerts parties etc .. they gather like a virus . 'Generally when in Sri Lanka if you know what your doing & where your going alls fine . Make your queries from as many sources as possible don't get ushered in by the suckers . Do your research. & dress accordingly . Period . As for local women getting hassled on the buses it ain't that bad then again depending on how aware & conscious one is . There still seem to be a trend though for our people to travel in crowded buses . This happened last afternoon . The bus was empty practically & when it stopped at a certain bus halt there seemed to be many young people girls & boys just coming out of some kind of classes . I was at the back of the bus seated . These big kids packed the damn bus so much in 2 & 3 talking while the boarded so much that there was a spill on effect one young lady couldent stand anymore she was almost on my lap. Totally embarrassing. Luck I had to get off 2 halts after bur was that a tassel with shoulders arms big bums & Mellons in ya face . . Surprised anyone . Shit happens. . Watch ya foot. .

  9. Karen says:

    The way to change this sick mentality is to educate women, the mothers. This sickness is by no means restricted to men who come from rural areas. At it's root the harassment is also a means to control women, to demean women and display male dominance. Teach women to value their self worth, to bring up their sons to respect all women. The entertainment industry can contribute by showing tele dramas/films which don't demean women. I've seen 1 awareness program on TV meant to curb harassment. there should be more and they shouldn't be so tame, remind men how they would feel if the woman harassed was their mother, sister, wife, daughter.

  10. MC says:

    Articles such as these should be published in sinhalese/tamil newspapers as well. Specially to open the eyes of those who think Sri Lanka is 'loke uthum rata'( the most sacred country in the world). I have heard even monks preaching (in bana) how terrible the western culture is, how superior we are to them. Instead they should educate the people that sri lankans come off as depraved perverts and creeps to the rest of the world. Maybe this deprivation comes from not being allowed to associate the opposite gender from a younger age. For most men, women are some mystical creatures they could never get close to, so the only way of communication is through cat calling. Maybe if kids were allowed to associate the opposite gender from a younger age, they'd see that women are people too. In Western countries boys grow up seeing that girls can do anything they can do which makes them understand and respect the opposite gender. Ps: The fact that this newspaper doesn't allow the word " s*x " goes to show how close minded we are of the whole subject. Maybe if we didn't treat the subject in such a hush hush manner, people will be a little less depraved

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