July 22, 2013

How Do Ecuadorians Protect Themselves Against Crime?

Wherever you may live in the world the best way to protect yourself from being a victim is to do what the local people do and have been doing for years and years, handed down from generations.

Point in fact, our Ecuadorian friends have shown us how they stay safe. Their behavior has helped us to be more watchful and to take certain precautions to make sure that negative circumstances do not happen to us.

It is through our own observations, personal experience, and our Ecuadorian friendships that we caution visitors and expats about certain conducts and actions while visiting in and or living in Ecuador.

The first thing to consider is this: When something bad happens to people on the streets in the Northern Country the police force takes action.  People up north are conditioned to and expect to be able to call 911 and depend on the police. Usually the police show up within a few minutes.

The state takes it upon themselves to keep bad people off the streets. This is what you pay some of your taxes for.  Although this may be changing starting with the larger metro areas.

Well, in Ecuador you’re not in Idaho anymore!

You Need to Take Responsibility for Your Own Safety

When living in Ecuador you are completely responsible for your personal safety. This means that you cannot rely on the streets being safe anywhere in Ecuador and that includes Cuenca. In fact, much of the thievery happens where all the tourists are.  Tourists are the ones with money, gadgets, and expensive jewelry.

In Ecuador many times the bad guys will NOT get caught. The police are not that proactive to chase after, investigate, and do the due diligence it deserves to catch a thief. Besides that, Ecuador law says that any robbery under $600 is not worth investigating…and the thief never gets caught, which means he continues his job of stealing from others.

When living in Ecuador you are in a developing country, which means the police force is not organized enough, or effective enough yet to put in the effort to actually investigate crimes and place the bad people in prison. Therefore the same bad guy(s) who robbed Dick and Jane yesterday at 10am in the morning are still out looking for vulnerable victims to steal from, or worse, rape, abuse, maul, whatever. 

Less Accountability in Ecuador

In Ecuador you can get stabbed ten times (which happened to a women alone in a good area of Cuenca at 10am in the morning), or you can have your wife’s (fake) pierced earrings ripped off her ears, (happened to our friend on the Calle Larga stairs) or you can be thrown down to the sidewalk for your camera, (happened to an expat last year on Calle Larga during the day) or…etc…etc…but what happens to the attacker? He gets away.

In Ecuador, taxi cabs hit pedestrians and bicyclists and flee the scene and never pay for the crimes they commit (just happened).

YOU ARE IN ECUADOR, although some want you to believe you’re in Disney Land.

In Ecuador, people are robbed of their personal things on a daily basis and  nine times out of ten the thieves are never made accountable for what they do…and so thievery continues to get worse.
However, there are now more tourist police in downtown Cuenca and the rash of brazen petty theft has lessened. And Cuenca has hundreds of new police patrolling the streets, which intimidates the thieves from the areas they are in, and that has curbed some of the crime in Cuenca. Although organized professional thievery is still a big problem.

In Ecuador thieves are everywhere eying out the naive, vulnerable, people (usually foreigners) on the streets, and they congregate where the tourists are!!

It’s their job to watch for women alone;

It’s the thief’s job to watch for anyone alone;

It is the thief’s job to watch for vulnerable people who are wearing shiny jewelry and expensive watches;

It is the thief’s job to watch for the guy who pulls out his money clip with a wad of cash while paying for a $5 souvenir at the flea market; (An expat told us this happened to her husband just recently in April of 2013.

It is the thief’s job to watch you sitting at the park, talking on your $500 Blackberry; (these phones are about $800 here.)  More than a month’s salary in many cases.

It is the thief’s job to see you put your purse on the restaurant chair arm so he can walk by and steal it;

In Ecuador, the thieves are sitting right next to you, watching you…eying out your vulnerable mannerisms…thinking should they steal from you or the next vulnerable person to walk by?   All in a day’s work for them.

People like to stick up for Ecuador and say on the forums that it is “safer here than the states”, but it is not safer from thievery and pickpockets! What a loaded statement anyway. And really, to compare two totally different cultures and the crimes that happen within is illogical at best. Think of all the variables such as what city you are referring to in the states, what kind of crimes, and what the victim was doing at the time of the crime, etc, etc.

Did you know there are still cities in the u.s.a where homeowners do not lock their doors at night? Here, if you didn’t lock your door (tall gated door) you will be burglarized!!  In the states women, without a thought, (I used to do it too) leave their purses in the grocery cart while they shop. In Ecuador that would be a no-no.  In fact walking around wearing a nice handbag is a no-no anywhere in Ecuador.

The point is, this is NOT the US, nor is it Europe…therefore why on earth compare the two crime cultures? Yes, Crime is everywhere in the world, and Ecuador is not excluded. Ecuador is not safer than the u.s.a it is just different. That means you have to behave different.

We certainly cannot tell people what to do, or how to behave in Ecuador but we can explain how different it is here than what you are used to. In Ecuador you are responsible for making sure you do not become a target, not only that, but you are also responsible for taking care of yourself and what happens to you.

How do Ecuadorians Protect Themselves from Crime?

We have Ecuadorians friends who worry about their 21-year old son when he doesn’t show up for dinner.  He is a good kid, doesn’t drink or party. So, what does that tell you? This same family does not allow their 24 year old daughter to walk around alone, even during the day!

1.    Ecuadorian women do not go out alone after dark unless accompanied.
2.    Local women are usually seen walking with sister, mothers, brothers, or girlfriends, co-workers, even during the day.
3.    Ecuadorians don’t act afraid or vulnerable.
4.    Many local women use pepper spray or another form of tear gas.
5.    One young Ecuadorian banking woman told us she does not wear her diamond engagement ring because it is too flashy.
6.    They always carry exact change with them.
7.    Ecuadorians do not pull out huge bills to pay for things.
8.    Many local women do not wear a purse, however this is changing. We're seeing more women with handbags in Cuenca.
9.    Ecuadorian women are almost always out in pairs or groups.
10.    We rarely see Ecuadorian women jogging or walking on the river trails alone. What we do see is if there is a local woman jogging there is a man tagging behind riding a bike or she has a guard dog with her.
11.     Ecuadorians stay away from the rivers after dark.
12.     Ecuadorians stay out of the parks at night, except for the bad guys.
13.    Ecuadorians are very cautious and alert of their surroundings. They have told us to watch our backpacks in Parque Calderon because a trio of hoodlums were eying out our stuff. We were new here and didn’t take notice of anything out of the ordinary. Believe me, now we notice.
14. Ecuadorians do not show off expensive things in their yards that would invite and tempt theives to climb the tall gate.
15. Many Ecuadorians have guard dogs.

If the Ecuadorians take precautions like this, then how much more should foreigners also take the same precautions and more? The rule of thumb would be to do what they do.

13 comments:

  1. You forgot to mention that Ecuadorian never leave anything visible inside their cars.....this is a great article, and the points you mentioned should be things future expats might want to start practicing.

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  2. Very informative article. Thanks so much!

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    1. Yes very good info, best point is to travel in pairs. I always try to pick-up pepper spray when I FIRST get to a new place. A cheap pocket clip knife and a heavy walking cane w/ curve-hooked handle... I at times used it to reach up to hold on when I was too far away. Best uses it as a bat for protection or to trip. They make paints with velpro pockets which are good. I like vests with lots of closing pockets. They make flashlites which flash very bright and you cant look at... look up Greg McGee Eng on the web. For women wearing bluejeans or long pants is better than a dress, same for wearing underwear with long legging types. Carrie a roll of paper cut to the same size as a dollar bill, put a real bill on the out side, when asked for money show the roll and say this is all I have and then throw it away and run the OTHER way. A leather coat or vest MAY stop a knife attack and give you time to run. Walk in lighted streets and when you can, walk away from buildings and doorways. Keep a can of insect spray by doors and at the read in case some one trys to jump you at the door. Get a cheap alarm to put on doors and windows. Always be watching and looking around. to tell if some one is following you make 3 right turns walking or driving.

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  3. I wish I would have read this before we bought property there. We leave Thursday morning to close on the property.

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  4. Very good advice - I have seen several of the situations mentioned during my times in EC although I don't live there yet. Another hint is to take an expensive camera in a backpack and only take it out when you actually want to take a picture. Always keep track of your backpack and keep it attached to something (e.g. a chair leg, etc. at all times when it is not physically on you!

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  5. How can anybody want to live like that?
    Always having to watch your back?
    Is it reeeeeely THAT bad? :(

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    1. No, its not really THAT bad when you don't wear jewelery, watches, purses, money belts, wallets, rings, cell phones, etc, etc, etc....most crime in Cuenca is petty thievery...if you have something and you do not take the precautions described in the article it will get taken.

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    2. Meybe it's better ta' just go nekid? :)
      (solves problem)

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  6. Just to chime in here...all info in this article is STILL relevant and good advice in 2016!
    ...and pretty much the standard in any large city in USA/Europe/Asia or unfamiliar territory or culture, world-wide!
    Ecuadorans ARE generally friendly, honest, and family-oriented...don't form an opinion on the whole culture based on the (anticipated) incidents of petty thievery that exist.
    And whether or not due to the very strict firearms controls here, you probably won't be shot for a pair of sneakers or a $ 5.00 bill, unlike a large country to the north...where firearms deaths are more than double the toll on the highways ( but that's another coloured pony )...

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  7. Actually you forgot to mention that here in Ecuador there is this thing called Express Kidnapping (Secuestro Express) and it happens somewhat more frequently than one would like to hear (Which is not standard in any large city in USA/Europe). Basically you get a taxi cab or if you are taking out money from an ATM someone will get close to you with a gun or knife and try to get you in a car, from there you have 3 or 4 people in the car taking you to different ATM's and empty your debit and credit cards, while hitting you inside the car to make sure you are complying. Crime rates have spike in the last year and a half due to the economic situation. I would suggest if you are visiting to MAKE sure to go inside a mall to retrieve money from the ATM, and if you are to get a cab; First call a reputable cab company, second, when the cab arrives, make sure he knows your name (as you stated on the phone to the taxi company. That information is shared to the taxi driver and if you ask, they'll give you the make and license plate of the vehicle of whom is picking you up) Third, and when possible write down the license plate and model of the taxi you are getting on and send it via text to a friend or family.
    Don’t be flashy, get travelers insurance and whenever possible, don’t look like a tourist.
    A couple of weeks ago 2 Argentinean girls were killed in Montañita and a few other tourists in the past recent years. Things the local government would not like you to know since they have spent millions of dollars in international ads to promote Ecuador as a “safe” tourist place to visit.

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  8. I used to live in Pasadena and this was all the same in many areas there. I had bars on my windows and I would make sure I never put boxes from expensive items in the trash. Like the box a TV or laptop came in.

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