Cara Cameron: Just another backpacker… until she was raped in Peru. Now she’s fighting the system
When she flew to the small Amazonian town of Iquitos in Peru’s north-east, Cara Cameron was hoping to embark on a jungle tour, perhaps see some wildlife. She wasn’t expecting a campaign of extended sexual harrassment by her local guide to end in her rape, four nights later.
Cameron is not the first backpacker to be raped while travelling, and sadly she won’t be the last. But rather than hanging her head and allowing local authorities to shame her, Cameron is fighting to regain her rights and is refusing to go quietly.
The twenty-four year old model from San Francisco was travelling with a friend when they were repeatedly approached by Victor Escobar Naro and Jaime Mejia Prado selling a tour with Amazon Adventure Expeditions, allegedly based in Los Angeles. The girls agreed to a four-day jungle tour late last January.
According to Cameron’s report, during the tour “Victor repeatedly tried to kiss me, touch me and sleep in my bed. I refused very clearly all his advances, but he did stop when I said stop.” The girls allege that the freelance guides were afraid of being fired, and convinced them not to report them if a night of food and lodging was paid for.
It was thus that they found themselves in the Las Brisas del Oriente Hotel in Iquitos on 3 February. Cameron went to bed at 10.30pm after having used the internet and shared one beer with her friend, Jane Kathrein. At around two in the morning, she woke to find that her clothes had been removed and Naro was on top of her, raping her.
“I awoke confused, scared then angry and pushed him, hit and kicked him, to get him to stop penetrating me. I grab the pepper spray I keep on the night stand and maced him in the face. I realize he is naked and not wearing a condom, and I am not wearing any other clothes besides my bra,” Cameron’s statement reads.
While she had been sleeping, the guides had returned for a drinking session and knocked on the door. Kathrein answered and went with them to collect her charger, not realising that Naro has slipped into the room behind her rather than following them down the hall. Ten minutes later, she returned to a locked door which she opened, to find her friend trying to fight Naro off.
When the girls exited the room to call the police, they found the lights switched off. “I have a really bad feeling,” Kathrein told Cameron. Cameron kicked out in the dark and hit Prado, who had been standing silently in the dark to block their path. “It’s all a misunderstanding,” he told them.
The hotel had been padlocked shut for the night and the girls found themselves locked in the lobby with Cameron’s rapist and his friend. Shouting and screaming for help through the bars, they attracted the attention of a mototaxi driver who pressed the external buzzer to get the receptionist out of bed. However, he and Prado both insisted that the police wouldn’t come, and Prado hung up the receiver as Cameron began to dial.
“They’re crazy gringas, don’t worry,” he told the clerk, in rapid-fire Spanish, Cameron recounts. Prado collected his belongings and was permitted by the receptionist to leave. On his way out he told Cameron, “[the police] will never believe you.”
Cameron’s experience is disturbing for many reasons. Apart from experiencing a horrible trauma, she is now facing a corrupt legal system that would rather shame and frighten her into leaving the country rather than prosecute the guilty.Cameron held her rapist at the hotel, preventing him too from leaving before the arrival of the police.
Despite an initially positive response (slapping Naro on his attempt to bribe them, taking him to the station and having a doctor examine Cameron and blood-test Naro), things degenerated.
Despite Naro’s claims that Cameron liked “rough sex” (to justify the vaginal tears and lesions), the police report concluded that they were the result of a violent sexual assault, and that Cameron’s swollen hands were a result of fighting him off.
She tested negative for alcohol and drugs, but while there managed to see Naro’s positive bloodwork.
In court the following day, Cameron was told that she would have to participate in a “confrontation” in which she, Naro and a public prosector sat in a room to debate the course of events, without a lawyer or a contact from the American Embassy present.
Furthermore, the judge, Maria Felices, said that if she did not sign her testimony, which had been translated into Spanish, and endure the process, the case would be dropped. “You lose,” she told Cameron.
The Peruvian justice system also requires that Cameron participate in a “reconstruction” where all participants return to the scene of the crime to reenact the events.
“No one cares about the psycological damage I have endured or how damaging literally recreating, reenacting my rape will be for me,” Cameron says. “We have also learned that our judge has had corruption charges brought against her for accepting bribes, and yet she is still practicing!“
The Peruvian judicial system has made me out to be the bad guy, and I think they are being so dificult so I will drop charges and run home. However, I am a fighter, and cannot leave with out ensuring he cannot continue to do this to other young women,” Cameron’s statement reads. “I refuse to be raped again by a corrupt Peruvian legal system.”
This case is perhaps the most high-profile in a long history of female backpackers being raped during their travels. In many cases, the victims have been pressured to drop charges or have chosen to fly home and leave their nightmarish experiences behind, knowing that the justice process is long and drawn-out and does not guarantee convictions. The law, it appears, is on the side of the perpetrators.
That white female backpackers are at risk is no surprise. They are a vulnerable group, standing out due to their looks, their ethnicity, and their backpacks. Many unwittingly engage in risky behaviour, often due to an ignorance of local customs, or the I’ll-take-my-chances mentality that comes with a life on the road. The income disparity between locals and visitors, and a resentment towards tourists from some sectors of society are just a couple of reasons for the violent attacks that have occured against foreign women.
However, Cameron’s case is an example of the failure of care of those that are supposed to protect tourists. The local government, tourism department, hotel owners, travel agents, taxi drivers, police and tour operators, are all responsible for protecting the foreigners that are visiting their country. Cameron’s is not an isolated incident, and pretending that it was, or that it can be swept under the rug will not make the issue go away.
What is remarkable about this case is that Cameron refuses to be cowed. She has started a Facebook page notifying her friends and family of what has happened, and is begging for help. She wants the media on the case, creating an awareness that she hopes will force the Peruvian authorities to take action. Created in the last week, the group already has almost three hundred members, many of whom are dedicated to gaining publicity for Cameron’s case.
“The more people, the more press I get, the safer I am. Please please please help me. Do whatever you need to do, but get the word out,” she pleads. “I saw my rapist walking freely down the street today and had a panic attack. Where is the justice?”
The answer is, there’s very little. Cameron shouldn’t have to fight like this to receive fair treatment at the hands of authorities. Rather than suspending the guides pending investigation, the Amazon Adventure Expeditions has mounted a smear campaign to attempt to discredit Cameron. Carolina Torres, daughter of the tour company’s founder, and her American fiance Matthew Taylor, who also works for the company, have categorically denied Cameron’s accusations despite all the evidence in her favour.
They posit that her claim is due to jealousy. Torres claims that the girls had been drinking and taking drugs and that Cameron had sexual relations with Naro while inebriated on tour. They claim that, upon their return to Iquitos, Cameron had sobered up and regretted the incident. They claim that Kathrein is her lover and that when she found Cameron with Naro, she was overcome with jealousy and that the girls cooked up the rape allegations together. They also threatened Cameron on the street yesterday, 7 February.
“You better get the fuck out of town before something really bad happens to you,” Cameron says that Torres said to her in a pharmacy. Cameron’s safety in Iquitos now as she pushes for justice is questionable at best. Ruffling too many feathers could cost her her life, but this is a fight she isn’t backing down from.However, there has been an outpouring of support for Cameron on the Peru21 news website that published an account of her rape. Readers have debated the role that authorities should play in protecting foreigners, as well as questioning whether or not Cameron got in over her head and cried rape.
“This is a humiliation for Peru, that our country will look this way to foreigners … Now the tourist will go and say that she was raped here and we’ll look bad. My God, what a shame, and with these corrupt police that we have and these judges that are for sale…” wrote ‘Pipe’ on 4 February.
“The police should ensure that the gringa hasn’t gotten involved with some guy, [panicked], and then said that he raped her. I’m not a machista but gringas are like that, especially when they travel abroad,” wrote ‘Miguel’ the same day.
Cameron has quite the battle in front of her. And regardless of what happens, the image of Peru will suffer, just has she has suffered, which is surely a tragedy for all involved. Peru’s image as a wonderful tourist destination, which is surely is, will depend on how authorities handle Cameron’s case in light of the growing media attention.
Join Cara’s Facebook group and support her.
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