Taking into consideration the governor’s recent comment about criminals that commit crimes against tourists (that they should be given maximum sentences, to which I agree), one might be given to believe that tourists are the only people who matter. You would also think that he hasn’t had four years in office to act and do something about problems that his government continues to ignore on a daily basis.
Driven by meth addiction, familial/domestic/sexual violence, the relative ease with which to sell stolen items and chronically light criminal sentencing practices, recidivist-driven crime is fact in the CNMI as are crimes against visitors and the serial sexual harassment of tourist women and girls on the beaches.
Due to multiple medical problems (including being immunocompromised), I don’t get out a lot, though when I do I rent a car to visit our beautiful beaches, World War II battlefields, and to run errands and get supplies. I often talk with tourists—particularly on the streets of Garapan or on the beaches and at tourist sites.
One young woman from South Korea recently summed up her experience here: “So pretty but not safe.” She was embarrassed but went on to tell me of two local men who harassed her and a female friend on Micro Beach and then followed them when they departed in their rental car. The experience was totally unwanted and scary and is likely how the two of them will remember Saipan and will likely tell friends, family and co-workers of the experience. That’s the kind of tourism outreach we don’t need.
Other tourists related of being harassed and not feeling safe enough to leave their stuff on the beaches when swimming or in their rental cars when parked in tourist areas. Some related frightening confrontations with aggressive drunks/meth users and harassment they received in downtown Garapan.
Since I use rental cars and look like an obvious outsider, I’ve had local dudes in old beater rigs persistently follow me. I’ve had cars flash their lights and try to stop me in areas of Marpi and the eastern and southern sides of the island. I was at Pau Pau Beach last week and decided to keep an eye on the parked car from a distance. Sure enough, after less than 10 minutes, two guys in an old pickup started to cruise the parking lot and they stopped right next to my car (the only one in the parking lot) and one got out and checked if anything was visible on the seats or floor. I’ve had repeated instances of men appearing out of bushes near the beach right by gear/food/water that I’ve left while wading and I had to yell at them and chase them off. From talking with locals who work at the resorts, sexual harassment and targeting by local men of tourist women and female staff happens with regularity at the resorts and on excursion tours. Bad actors constantly cruise the streets and beaches for easy targets to rip off, rob, or harass and this extends into our neighborhoods too. Most South Korean and Japanese visitors will not report the crimes due to the victim stigma that comes with reporting and language/cultural barriers.
This is unacceptable. Both locals and visitors have the right to be safe, to not be assaulted, robbed, followed, or harassed.
So there are two choices: either we as a community do something about this escalating problem or we continue to do next to nothing.
Local law enforcement needs the support (in terms of manpower hours and equipment) to put the beach parking lots and beaches under surveillance, both random physical patrols and video. Maybe it’s time for government/police-sponsored volunteer patrols? That we have to consider this sucks but I also know neighbors and other local people that now don’t allow their children to go to neighborhood playgrounds and beaches without supervision. Tinted windows on cars should be made illegal as it allows stalkers and criminals to “case” places, houses, businesses, and people without being seen in the process. It’s time for mandatory maximum sentences for parole violations with previously violent offenders, repeat crimes, violent crimes, crimes of a sexual nature and against women and children. At a most basic level this is a failure of education. People should be taught from an early age so that they know what behaviors are simply not to be tolerated no matter who what. Locals, neighbors, tourists, and outsiders alike are not people deserving to be targeted, robbed, harassed, assaulted, or exploited and there must be zero tolerance for violent crimes against women, children, and elders.
Mark Farmer (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Mark Farmer is a retired U.S. Coast Guard servicemember who currently lives in Garapan.