Late last Wednesday evening I received an anonymous message through a fake Facebook account purposefully written to instill the greatest amount of fear, uncertainty and emotional stress in me as possible.
It was full of lies, claiming I’m a sex tourist, I abuse minors, there’s proof, I’m going to jail and I will be shamed publicly as a result. Worse, it implied I’d be killed.
I immediately notified U.S. and Colombian authorities of what I felt were serious and specific threats against me. Below are the steps I took to protect myself.
The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá
I spoke with the American Citizen Services group, which handles emergencies involving U.S. citizens in Colombia.
They are aware of the situation and I now have a point of contact there.
Fiscalía General de la Nación
At Fiscalía (Prosecutor’s office) near the Universidad de Antioquia, I filed a sworn statement about the defamation and harassment.
I provided them with copies of every message.
I delivered the protection order I received from the Fiscalía to my local police station.
The assisting officer brought a copy of the protection order signed by his commander to my home by 9 a.m. the next morning. I even ran into a friendly cop I know in the parking lot.
Install it on your smartphone and open it if you find yourself in any danger. The app waits five seconds and then automatically sends a message to the nearest officer who can respond based on your GPS location.
Everyone visiting Medellín should get this app.
Gaula is a special police division responsible for handling cases involving kidnapping and extortion.
Gaula can be reached locally, at no cost, by dialling 165. Their offices are located in Guayabal, across the river from Ciudad del Río, at Carrera 51 #14-259.
I reported this third and most serious instance of harassment to Facebook and blocked the fake profile. I also made my Facebook profile private and am not accepting new friends.
This person has already contacted at least three of my friends through Facebook to spread lies and discredit me. If you receive such a message, please save it (either a screenshot or copy/paste), report the harassment to Facebook and block the account.
Friends and Family
I began reaching out to trusted friends and family to make them aware of what I was experiencing.
Talking about the experience has helped me process why someone would make up terrible lies to try and force me out of business (hint: anti-Americanism).
Anyone who knows me, knows these statements against me are 100 percent bullshit.
The Role of Medellín Living
I want to reassure readers I have nothing to hide. I’m a law-abiding citizen of the U.S. who also respects the laws of Colombia, and any country I visit.
Further, I try to live a peaceful life that’s respectful and understanding of others, regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or background.
That said, I recognize by not taking a public stand against the rise of sex tourism in Medellín, I may be perceived as not caring, or worse, complicit in illegal or harmful behavior.
Medellín Living’s purpose is to present the city and Colombians in a positive light. While this is a difficult topic, I will not shy away from addressing it here.
No Al Turista Sexual (No to the Sex Tourist)
This week, I’ll be dedicating a separate story to the campaign. Until then, please read this excellent article by Colombia Reports from last year.
In addition, I removed the review I wrote several years ago promoting Colombian Cupid (click here to see it’s no longer in Google’s results), a dating website for foreign men to meet Colombian women.
While I and several friends have met smart, wonderful women through it, and I do not consider it a sex tourism website, I do know it is used by sex mongers.
For this reason, I will no longer promote it on Medellín Living nor will it be included in the iPhone app or mentioned in the next version of my book.
At the end of the day, I believe it’s the sex tourists themselves, not any particular website or app, that are the problem, however, I am more than happy to make this concession.
According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, “73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online, and 40% have personally experienced it.”
Sadly, research shows young people and women bear the brunt of it, but as I’ve learned recently, it can happen to anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
Have you experienced harassment or intimidation running your business in Medellín, Colombia, or anywhere else for that matter? Share your experiences in the comments below.