Fri, Apr 05, 2013 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Sex attacks threaten India’s tourism industry

AP, MUMBAI, India

However, in India it is particularly easy to find stories from foreign women who, like Indian women, have been harassed, followed or fondled.

Italian model Ginevra Leggeri, 21, says she had no warning when a man groped her from behind while she was walking with a friend in Mumbai, where she came to work a few months ago.

“I was completely covered and we were just walking, and this man touched me, and I started screaming and I slapped him,” she said.

Her friend and co-worker Amy Manson, 19, quickly pointed out that a pair of Indian men on a passing motorbike saw the incident and stopped to confront the attacker.

“An Indian guy grabbed her, but then two other Indian guys came and helped us,” Manson said. “So it’s like a 50-50 situation.”

However, she hesitates when asked if she would recommend a friend visit and she agrees India’s tourist business will be damaged if it doesn’t take action to protect women. Last month, the government passed new, more stringent laws against sexual violence.

“It’s not just the girl in Delhi ... this has been happening for years and years and years,” Manson said. “It’s just coming out now, which is good, because maybe things will change.”

Imran Latha, owner of the Visit India tour company in Mumbai, said Indian men assume when they see foreign women drink or do drugs that they are also eager for sex. The only solution, he said, is for tourists to dress modestly and protect themselves.

“Trust me, India cannot do anything. The Indian government is the worst in the world. If we can’t protect our own countrywomen, what can we do for foreigners?” Latha asked.

At the end of their six-week trip, De Paolo and Wahner say their groping incidents are not the only thing they will remember about a vast and richly cultured subcontinent.

“Now, after this trip, I would for example never travel alone as a woman in India,” Wahner said.

They quickly learned to take precautions — always dressing modestly in long sleeves and trousers outside major cities, rarely venturing out of their hotels after dark. Being friendly, but not too friendly, to men and trying to find Indian women for company.

“It’s strange. You don’t want to judge every man who sits next to you, but sometimes, in the end, yes, they do touch you,” Wahner said.

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