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.