W5 investigates sexual assaults at holiday resorts

Published Friday, November 16, 2018 2:07PM EST
Updated Monday, November 19, 2018 4:30PM EST

Alicia Pickering sits on a kitchen barstool next to her 18-year-old daughter, Lauryn.

As they are getting settled and ready for our interview, I think about the questions I'll be asking in front of our cameras. It fills me with dread.

I want to shield her beautiful daughter from the ugly mess that has brought us all together in this small home outside Vancouver.

It doesn’t take long, though, to realize that Lauryn must be there, right beside her mum, because there are moments in mother-daughter relationships where the roles become reversed. And what happened to Alicia and Lauryn on vacation in Mexico is one of those moments.

Video Part 1: W5's Avery Haines investigates multiple cases of sexual assault at all-inclusive resorts that are being ignored by local authorities.

Video Part 2: Is there any way for Canadian travellers to know if they are at higher risk of sexual assault at a specific resort?  

It was July, 2016.

Alicia was going through a divorce and planned a last minute getaway with her then 16-year-old daughter.

Lauryn had never before been on an airplane and was relishing in a girl’s getaway.

For Alicia, it was an escape and an exotic way to celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday.

The resort was everything both had imagined: beautiful rooms, excellent service, and friendly people. Lauryn got her wish to swim with dolphins. Alicia tackled her fear of heights by going ziplining.

Lauryn and her mother, Alicia Pickering (handout photo)

Alicia and Lauryn are sharing with me only the good memories, at first. They describe it so clearly that I can see them there together in that sweet spot, where the parental lines blur and friendship slides into the equation. I know I must move the conversation now to the brutal part, but I want to give them as much time as possible to remember, and to relive the good before delving into the bad.

I ask Alicia to tell me about the second-last day of their vacation, the day that changed everything. She looks at her daughter. Her voice wavers: “Sorry,” she stammers, “it’s really difficult to talk about.”

According to Alicia, she was drugged and raped by a group of tourists who said they were from the U.S. and on a bachelor party vacation. Lauryn is hearing for the first time the more explicit details of what happened in the hours her mom was in that room with those men; the hours she spent back at their room worrying about where her mother was. 

Alicia articulates the harrowing sentiment that I have been haunted by since first hearing her story: that the only saving grace is that these men targeted her and not her daughter: “But for the grace of God. It’s the only thing that would have made it worse .. if it had happened to her.”

The day after Alicia was attacked, mother and daughter returned to the scene of the crime. Lauryn covered the peep hole of one of their rooms, and when the door was answered, they took these pictures. 

Alicia says this is one of the men who raped her.

Alicia gave the pictures to the RCMP and to Interpol when she returned to Canada, but the investigation is stalled. For legal reasons, we have chosen to blur this image, but Alicia says he, and some of the other men, had bulldog tattoos on their musclebound arms. They claimed to be from Los Angeles and said they were on a bachelor party vacation at the Riu Santa Fe resort in Los Cabos, Mexico during the last week of July, 2016.   

Our W5 investigation delves into what happens after a tourist is sexually assaulted at a foreign all inclusive resort. Time and again, we were told by women, including Alicia, that they were failed by the resort and by the Canadian tour companies. 

The Canadian government has a longstanding warning for women travelling to Mexico because of the threat of sexual violence. But that warning doesn’t include details about how often it happens, nor do the advisories list specific resorts where these crimes have occurred.

Video: Pamela Goldsmith Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks about responding to sexual assault at resorts

 

Only as a result of numerous access to information requests, can we tell you that 24 cases of assault were reported to Global Affairs by Canadian travellers in Mexico in 2017. Two assaults every month. But those numbers don't specify the type of assault, or where it occurred.

The Canadian government concedes that the advisories should be more specific and that a review is currently underway.

There has been no justice for Alicia. But her daughter, Lauryn, just by being the strong insightful young woman that she is, erased for her mum something those men almost left her with that day. Shame.

Here's part of my interview with Alicia Pickering and her daughter, Lauryn.