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Goa's tourism boss links sexual assaults to bikinis

A shocking case provokes outrage. The local government blames swimwear.

Tourists walk back after swimming at Anjuna beach in the western Indian state of Goa, March 14, 2008. A recent string of high-profile sexual assaults on tourists in Goa culminated in the alleged rape of a 9-year-old Russian girl last week, prompting tourism officials to blame tourists' revealing bikinis for provoking locals. (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

NEW DELHI, India — Once upon a time, the beaches of Goa were known for free love. But as a string of high-profile sexual assaults on tourists culminated in the alleged rape of a 9-year-old Russian girl last week, the idyllic strip of sand along the Arabian Sea is fast gaining a fearful reputation.

The answer? According to the state's ministry of tourism, those cute pre-teens in two-pieces are asking for it.

“You can't blame the locals; they have never seen such women. Foreign tourists must maintain a certain degree of modesty in their clothing. Walking on the beaches half-naked is bound to titillate the senses,” New Delhi's Mail Today newspaper quoted Pamela Mascarhenas, Goa's deputy director of tourism, as saying Friday.

GlobalPost could not reach Mascarhenas for comment. But a spokesman for the Goa tourism department confirmed that — far from marking a departure from official policy — the official's remark echoed previous statements by the tourism minister himself. (Opinion: Goa is no rape capital)

“I have not talked to her [Mascarhenas] on this issue directly,” said Swapnil Naik, director of the Goa tourism department. “But I think that sentiment has also been echoed by our minister in one or two statements. There is a degree of cultural shock for our native population when they see certain type of dressing.”

Goa has been on the boil since Jan. 28, when a 9-year-old Russian girl was allegedly raped by two Indian men. Following close on the heels of the alleged rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling, a British teenager, in 2008, the incident sparked an immediate media feeding frenzy, as local TV channels broadcast interviews with the victim's mother and the 9-year-old girl herself. The ongoing story culminated Jan. 30 with a scare headline reading, “No Bikinis On Goa Beaches.”

Naik said that there is no plan to ban bikinis. “It's totally false,” he said. “There was no such statement made.”

Earlier in January, Goa Tourism Minister Francisco Pacheco announced that the government would no longer feature women in bikinis in its advertisements. The state has not barred other tourism organizations for promoting fun in the sun, and it has not yet made any noises about imposing a dress code on the state's revelers.