Brazil Gang Rape Sheds Light On Top Dangerous Countries; Tips On Protecting Yourself

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Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff speaks to governors and mayors in Brasilia. Reports of sexual assaults in Brazil have risen sharply since 2009, prompting concern. Reuters

The rape of an American tourist in Rio de Janeiro on Monday came as a shock to many in the travel industry, as it occurred in the neighborhood of Copacabana, a suburb and principal tourist hub known as one of the safest districts in the city. An interactive map released and updated continually by Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs categorizes countries according to level of safety for foreign travelers and dispenses tips and regional warnings.

Countries which the map deems unsuitable for all travel are concentrated primarily in central Africa and the Middle East, as one might expect, and include North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Mali, Niger, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia.  And it's recommended that a number of other African countries -- Nigeria, Libya, Mauritania, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Eritrea, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- be avoided in the case of all non-essential travel. 

For Brazil, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs' map recommends a "high degree of caution."  Reports of rapes in Brazil have risen 150 percent since 2009, raising concerns in a country which expects to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. 

In another country with heavy tourist traffic and a growing sexual assault problem, India, the ranks of foreign tourists have thinned, dropping 25 percent since December, when it was reported that a young woman had been raped on a bus in New Delhi.  Among female travelers the decline in numbers has been even more drastic, reaching 35 percent. The aforementioned assault happened only about a month after India's tourist office launched a marketing campaign called "Incredible India," which made use of a quite striking TV ad featuring "The Mentalist" co-star Patricia Malone as a solo woman traveler. It's worth noting, however, that sexual assault is relatively rare in India -- USA Today reports that it's actually more common in Sweden.

Mexico also crops up on the map as a mixed bag. The southeastern state of Yucatan -- home of famed Maya ruins Chichen Itzá - was noted in a 2011 article by the Economist as having a lower murder rate than Canada. Yet it's advised that visitors travel to Mexico by air if entering from the north so as to avoid crossing by land through the country's northernmost states, for which there is a regional advisory -- these sites suffer from "continuously high levels of violence linked to organized crime."

The safest countries, according to the map, are Australia, Botswana, Canada, Chile, most of Europe, Greenland, Iceland, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Korea, the United States and Uruguay. And for the time being, Antarctica still appears to be a safe bet. 

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.