Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Once Upon A Time In Mexico: Victim's Rights In A Foreign Land

By Michelle Simonsen

Americans traveling outside of the country has always held some sort of inert danger, but in recent years it has become more apparent that no one is safe when on vacation, and justice is usually never likely when something bad happens. We tend to "let down our hair" and throw caution to the wind because all of the smiling foreign faces seem harmless and safe. We've all heard stories about vacationers being robbed, assaulted, even killed, yet it is still a popular belief that something like that would never happen to them. 

How can we forget the infamous case of 18-year-old Alabama native, Natalee Holloway, who went missing while on the island of Aruba in May 2005, while celebrating her high school graduation with her fellow classmates? Let's also not forget about 24-year-old Amy Bradley, who was last seen in March 1998, while vacationing with her family on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship after docking in Curacao, Netherland Antilles. Most recently, in April 2007, Phylicia Moore, an 18-year-old New Jersey native was with her high school class traveling to Ghana on a good-will mission when she was mysteriously found dead in her Ghana hotel pool. There were no witnesses, no clues, and no answers for her family.

When we leave our borders we are subject to the laws of the country we are staying in. For victims of crime, this can become a living nightmare due to lackadaisical laws, police corruption, blatant cover-ups, and the lack of proper resources.

Rebecca Sinnott, a married 40-year-old North Carolina mother, thought she had hit the jackpot when her 19-year-old niece, Ashley won a vacation of a lifetime - a five day trip to Cancun, Mexico.  Rebecca had never been out of the country, let alone on a plane. This was going to be the trip of her dreams - a trip to paradise. Little did she know it would turn out to be a rape in paradise.

When Ashley won the trip to Cancun, Rebecca thought it would only be natural for her to join her as a chaperone. Rebecca had raised Ashley and their family agreed it would be safer for Rebecca to accompany her, instead of Ashley taking a college friend. Rebecca would be the chaperone, the adult, the one in charge, and the one that made sure Ashley would be safe from harm. Little did she know, she would be the prey and not her naïve 20-year-old niece.

On May 6, 2007, Rebecca and Ashley flew towards their idyllic vacation spot of Cancun, Mexico, ready to take in the ocean air, the warm sun, and beauty. She was ready to relax and enjoy the opportunity for the vacation of a lifetime.

On their third night, Tuesday, May 8, 2007, Rebecca and Ashley decided to enjoy dinner and drinks on one of the many popular dinner/party cruises that Cancun offered. From approximately 7:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., they enjoyed their dinner, drinks, music, the beautiful boat, and the serenity of the ocean around them. The experience gave her a new vitality and when the cruise ended, Rebecca and Ashley decided to check out some of the night clubs that were near their hotel.

At approximately 3:00 a.m., on Wednesday, May 9, 2007, Rebecca and Ashley walked back to their hotel after an enjoyable evening. As they walked along the streets, breathing in the fresh and warm night air, they decided to stop at a convenience store that was next to their hotel. As they walked towards the store, two security guards befriended them. The guards, who identified themselves as Carlos and Javier, offered to accompany Rebecca and Ashley to a table in front of the store, where they could relax and chat. To Rebecca, Carlos and Javier seemed to be friendly locals, so they all chatted for the next hour, about how much they were enjoying their vacation, how lovely Cancun was and even exchanged stories about their families and children. 

Carlos explained that he and Javier were security guards for a nearby night club. Rebecca was not familiar with the club, so Carlos offered to show her the inside the closed club, telling her stories of how American bands such as Guns-n-Roses had previously played there.

At this time, Rebecca and Ashley mentioned that it was getting late and they were going to leave.  Ashley told Rebecca to go ahead and look inside and said she would meet her in their room in a few minutes. They separated for what could have been the final time.

Rebecca recalls the next moments vividly.

"I remember going into the club and looking around with Carlos and up until this point, no warning, no hint, no flirting, no touching, nothing to make me think anything other than I had met a nice gentleman security guard in Cancun," Rebecca said. "After we came out of the club I remember saying 'thank you' and how nice it was to meet him, so when he offered to walk me to the hotel for my safety, I never thought anything of it. And when he said, 'Here, let's cut through the club, it comes out in the back of the lobby,' I never doubted him. Once inside the club, we walked down a hallway and when I was in the back of the club, I remember coming to a locked door and asking him to unlock it."

Rebecca continues her story.

"I remember him saying, 'Give me what I want and I'll take you where you want to go!' I remember him wailing on my head with his fist and saying 'American Tourista' and 'you know you want it'. At one point, I could clearly see his face standing in the doorway and he was smiling at me, while he backhanded me across the face and knocked me to the floor. I remember him tearing at my top; I remember pushing him and saying, 'NO!  Don't do this!'  I remember grabbing his genitals and how his jeans tore at my fingernails as I tried desperately to hurt him enough to get him off me. I remember his face and his rage and his right hand coming at me and knocking me into a wall. Then I remember telling myself to lay still and act like I'm dead and maybe he'll go away. I remember the colors of the walls; I remember the blood, so much blood."

The next thing Rebecca remembers is being in her hotel lobby and seeing her niece screaming and passing out at the sight of the blood and her appalling injuries. Rebecca started screaming, "Go get Carlos!  He did this! Ashley knows where he is! Tell them! Go get him! Help me!" Little did Rebecca know, through her swollen and bloody face all they could make out were moans.

The next 24 hours were a blur for Rebecca. Ashley recollects no one being able to speak English except for the ambulance driver, who quickly asked her, "How much money do you have?" as her Aunt laid on the ground screaming and bleeding profusely. A credit card was her only ticket to the hospital, where they immediately did a rape kit, and started prepping her for an operation on her battered and broken body. She remembers speaking to her crying husband on the phone, who was screaming, "Get out of there before they kill you! Get out of Mexico! Just come home no matter what! They are going to kill you! Don't trust anyone, come home!"

With those words, from her husband of 20 years, Rebecca got up, signed some paperwork that she couldn't see, let alone read, and her hotel concierge immediately put her in a wheelchair and told her he would get her on a flight home back to the states right away.

As soon as Rebecca was back in North Carolina, she was rushed to a hospital, where she learned the extent of her injuries. She had lost three teeth, both of her eye sockets and cheek bones were broken, her nose was broken and she had several broken ribs. When the doctors were finished, she was also left with over a dozen stitches, both inside and outside of her mouth, and another dozen around her left eye.

"By all rights my face should have caved in from the pressure on the plane and why it did not is a mystery," Rebecca said, adding, "I was in a hell of a shape, but I was ALIVE."

Since the alleged incident, Rebecca's life has never been the same. It has caused her to develop severe depression and post traumatic stress, for which she had to start taking medication and seek intense therapy. Due to the depression and stress, Rebecca lost her job because she could not perform her duties the way she used to.

Rebecca vowed to herself, and to countless other victims, that Mexico would not forget her name. She began to speak to anyone who would listen to her story - lawyers, politicians, the media, and the Mexican authorities.

In August 2007, North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole referred Rebecca's case to the U.S. Department of State and they sent her a letter stating that the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun inquired with local police on her behalf and learned that a suspect had not been apprehended in connection with her case; however her case remains open.

Rebecca has become a crusader and continues to fight her case with the Mexican authorities and has no intention of giving up the hunt for her rapist and those who helped cover it up.

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  1. I have had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca and she is an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing her story. I will be adding your link onto my organization's website. Please go to:
    to read other personal stories and the many dangers of traveling to Mexico.

  2. Maureen, incredible website! This information needs to be spread! Especially with spring break coming up! THANKS!

  3. I know it's been two years, but, if anything it's even WORSE down there now. I would NEVER set foot over there. Never ever. ALSO, when people cry racism in regards to all the illegal immigration from Mexico, keep in mind - these people right here?? they are the ones coming illegally. Criminals, violent, extortionists, drug dealers, kidnappers, the list goes on and on. Mexico is also known for it's child brothels, which usually operate right out where people are aware of what is happening there. Broken glass shard fences, razor wire & men with machine guns stand guard. I absolutely ABHOR the place & the people.

    She is very lucky to be alive. Those bastards kidnap and murder 5 year olds, when they go to kill someone over a drug debt, they will chase down and slit the throats of children in the family. Just absolute animals.


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