Travel influencers detail ‘dangerous’ Dominican Republic experience, respond to backlash

Travel influencers Cora and Jay Smith recently attracted headlines – and haters  – for reiterating the “dangerous” side of their of their three-month trip to the Dominican Republic in 2018.

Cora claimed she narrowly avoided being kidnapped and sexually assaulted on the Caribbean island.

In an Instagram post published Thursday, the Florida couple, who document their adventures on their Great Escape blog and Instagram account, answered critics who slammed them for only opening up now about their experience, as the island makes headlines over the recent deaths of U.S. tourists.

In a video accompanying the post, Jay once again called the country dangerous and decried the backlash the pair had received for speaking out.  

“People are trying to say the only reason we’re coming out with our story now is because of all the other horrible news coming out of the D.R. and that we’re trying to create a pattern. We didn’t create the pattern. The people who actually perpetrated these crimes made the pattern. All we’re doing is trying to warn people the pattern is there.” 

In the past two months, four U.S. tourists have died at resorts on the island and former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, a Dominican native, was shot  at close range last weekend while visiting his homeland. And in late May, a Delaware woman went viral with a Facebook post in which she said she was  brutally assault there in January.

Dominican Republic:Island faces tourist backlash after Ortiz shooting, multiple deaths

Six suspects, including the alleged gunman, have been detained in the shooting of Ortiz, the Dominican Republic's chief prosecutor said. Authorities have declined to give a motive for the shooting at a popular Santo Domingo bar Sunday night. (Jun 12)
AP, AP

Jay noted the pair detailed their “bad” experiences in an April 6, 2019, post – published nearly two months before Tammy Lawrence-Daley detailed her January assault at a Punta Cana resort.

In the post, Cora wrote a man catcalled her and pulled over his car, motioning for her to get in. 

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We bought these bikes 🚲 in Santo Domingo, we plan to take them with us all through the Caribbean! . . . #bikelife #explore #travelblog #neverstopexploring #traveler #beautifuldestinations #travellife #wanderer #aroundtheworld #lifeofadventure #lifestyle #travelblogger #liveauthentic #getoutside #backpacker #traveltheworld #travelgram #instatravel #travelphotography #igtravel #instatraveling #traveladdict #travellife #travelpics #traveldiaries #exploreeverything #travelphoto #inspire #wanderlust #dreamer

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According to that post, two weeks later, she and Jay were riding bikes when a pair of Dominican men turned their scooter around to follow her.

“The man on the back of the scooter reaches out and grabs my butt,” she wrote. “I was completely shocked and furious. He started to laugh at me in my face. I tried to create a little distance as they were so close to me our legs were touching. I pulled back out in attempt to kick them and knock the scooter over. When I did this, then the guy reaches out and grabs my chest. I’m talking full-on groped me.”

She continued, “After they had their fun, they speed off. It all happened so quickly and even though I was screaming, my husband couldn’t hear me over all the road noise. By time I was able to tell him what happened they were already long gone.”

In his video, Jay acknowledged such incidents are not unique to them but asked critics to consider what they would have done in their shoes.

In the caption area of Thursday’s post, the Smiths said they didn’t report either incident “because what would that have accomplished? There would have been no suspects or proof. We didn’t have photos of the incidents.” 

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We have received massive kickback for coming forward with our travel experience in #dominicanrepublic 1. This story is not just coming out, we blogged about it a long time ago. This story is also not fake and it’s really unbelievable how few people have shown support. 2. The headlines are making us sound like we falsely promoted DR knowing it was dangerous. This is not the case. We did not promote DR – EVER IN ANY WAY, we did not profit from DR – there was no collaboration with businesses at all for our personal gain, we had no audience at the time- look at the photos from there, there are hardly any likes/comments. The only platform we had was our brand new blog and we wrote about it on there. In fact, anyone we spoke to personally about travel to this country was told exactly how we felt. Our IG photos from DR were simple and light hearted because all IG was to us at the time was a photo journal to remember our trip. We didn’t post about it on IG because It was personal and pretty embarrassing. What I was trying to explain to the media is how Influencers are often not likely to post about bad personal experiences because of the negativity factor and fear of upsetting people. I wasn’t trying to say that we are liars or that I lied personally. I wasn’t trying to say myself or other Influencers knowingly promote bad things /places for personal gain. 3. We tried to make the best of our time in DR and decided not to turn tale and run when things went like they did. It would have cost a fortune to cancel and rebook elsewhere. We also really kept trying to give the place a chance. 4. We didn’t go to the authorities because what would that have accomplished? There would have been no suspects or proof. We didn’t have photos of the incidents. Not to mention the situation that occurred with the Turismo Police trying to extort Jay the first week we were there on the Malecon in Santo Domingo. We didn’t trust them at all. 5. Why are we talking about it again now? This country has had a lasting effect on us and we wanted to defend the current victims by sharing our experience. We really felt obligated to say something. We were trying to do the right thing and warn people

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To the people who want to know why they’re speaking up now, the Smiths wrote, “This country has had a lasting effect on us and we wanted to defend the current victims by sharing our experience. We really felt obligated to say something. We were trying to do the right thing and warn people.”

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We hiked 27 waterfalls today. It was amazing!!! Videos to come . . . #explore #travelblog #neverstopexploring #traveler #beautifuldestinations #travellife #wanderer #aroundtheworld #lifeofadventure #lifestyle #travelblogger #liveauthentic #getoutside #backpacker #traveltheworld #travelgram #instatravel #travelphotography #igtravel #instatraveling #travelbug #traveladdict #travellife #travelpics #traveldiaries #exploreeverything #travelphoto #inspire #wanderlust #dreamer

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In his video, Jay said that they decided to speak out again after the Dominican tourism minister claimed the recent cases involving U.S. tourists were “all isolated incidents and that the D.R. is a safe place.”

On the contrary, he said, “We went to many areas in the D.R. and it was very much the same: the harassment, the abuse. It happened everywhere.”

To anyone planning a trip there, he warned, “You should expect some level of it and don’t be surprised if it happens to you.”

Related:Bodies of Maryland couple who died at D.R. resort returned to US

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