‘Kidnapped, bashed almost raped’
IT WAS a hugely exciting time in Jennifer and Frank Massabki's young lives.
The newly engaged duo had just travelled to Mexico to find the perfect location for their wedding. Little did they know the horror that awaited them.
Their awful luck began when the American tourists hired a car in Mexico City, Market Watch reports. Just one hour later, they were hit from behind by another vehicle. But when Frank got out to talk to the other driver, he was horrified to see two men with weapons approaching them.
The couple say they were taken hostage in the strangers' car where it was demanded that they remove their jewellery. Frank was blindfolded as they travelled to another destination. Along the way they were told, "This is going to get a lot worse for you," and told to think of people to call for ransom back home in the US.
They were left bloodied and bruised in the hours that followed, due to several violent altercations that left Jennifer with a broken nose.
However, in a stroke of luck the two were able to escape. Jennifer attacked one of the men as he attempted to rape her. Then, while the kidnappers were distracted with her, Frank managed to get away. When they realised, the kidnappers went to look for Frank - giving Jennifer the chance to also escape and climb a tree, waiting there for hours until Frank brought police back to her.
Following the 2017 attack, the couple filed a report with police and sought medical treatment back home, with Jennifer requiring emergency surgery. They are now speaking out to warn other tourists.
"We just want other people to know these dangers exist," Frank said. "We were lucky to escape, and if our story can prevent one other person from going through what we went through, and what we almost had to go through, it would be worth it."
They believe the fact they are fluent in Spanish helped them get free as they could understand what was being said.
They still have nightmares about the ordeal.
A 2018 report from the US Overseas Security Advisory Council found violence is on the rise in central and south Mexico.
"Mexico is experiencing a combination of conditions that collectively degrade the security environment in certain areas," the report said. "The government has had successes in capturing some of its most wanted criminals; consequently, organised criminal groups are becoming much less organised and disciplined.
"Various groups have splintered into smaller gangs, which have branched out into different illegal business activities, and the associated violence is spreading across Mexico."
The warning comes after a series of bloody incidents across the country that made headlines.
Last month, tourists watched as a man's body washed ashore at Caletilla Beach in Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero. Horrifying images show stunned beachgoers standing near the water as officials removed the body.
Later that month, 16 people - including six police officers - were killed in two confrontations also in Guerrero, during a bloody gunbattle that lasted half an hour. The next day, gunmen on water scooters shot at a roving vendor on a beach in Cancun's glittering hotel zone, an incident believed to be unprecedented for the Caribbean city.
Meanwhile, more than 100 people have now been slaughtered in Cancun since the beginning of 2018, as cartels continue to spread fear throughout Mexico.
However, tourists continue to flock to the hugely popular country despite these horror stories.
HOW TO STAY SAFE IN MEXICO
Travel advisories from Australia and the US state that visitors should exercise a "high degree of caution" when in Mexico - the second lowest of four travel advice levels.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warns of high levels of violent crime and drug-related violence.
"Murder, armed robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping are risks, including in popular tourist destinations and beach resorts. Risks increase after dark," the department says.
This is DFAT's main advice for Australians considering visiting Mexico:
• Pay close attention to your personal security at all times
• Avoid travelling at night outside of major cities, including on major highways
• Avoid changing money at the airport if possible, or change only small amounts to avoid attracting attention
• Use only official taxis from airports. Pre-pay your fare at one of the official taxi company booths located in the arrivals hall at airport terminals
• Use only radio-dispatched taxis or taxis based at designated stands (sitios), especially in Mexico City
• Use only first-class buses
• Using toll (cuota) roads may reduce the risk of crime when driving
• Don't leave your drinks or food unattended, especially in bars or nightclubs
• Don't accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances
• Monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks. Avoid trouble spots.