Ah, the Caribbean. Blazing sun. Blue sea. A carefree escape.
Until something goes wrong.
Brandie Black thought she'd found paradise when she moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to the Dutch island of St. Maarten to study medicine at the American University of the Caribbean. But in late February, Black got a harrowing look at the dark side of island life.
Black was asleep in her student apartment on the university campus. It was about 4 a.m. She said she remembers hearing a noise, and in an instant a man was on top of her tearing at her clothes. He was trying to rape her. She remembers screaming and fighting.
The assailant fled, but not before grabbing her wallet with $1,000 in cash, some jewelry and her digital camera. He left her with a black eye and, she would later discover, two broken ribs.
But that was only the beginning of her traumas.
In an instant, several students who were sleeping in neighboring apartments came to her aid. One dialed 911. The dispatcher told him that the police had no one to send. Ten minutes later the neighbor called 911 again. Again he was told there were no officers available. When he asked for an ambulance he was told it would take an hour.
Several students bundled Black into a car to drive her across the island to the hospital. On the way they met the ambulance. But the attendants refused to take Black, telling her that because it was a sexual assault, they had to wait for police.
"We told them that police weren't coming," Black said. "Finally, they said they would take me."
She said it got worse when she arrived at the hospital. Because she'd been sexually assaulted, the medical staff would not touch her until the detectives arrived to gather evidence. Black said she believes it was around 6:30 a.m. that two police officers finally arrived, but she said they showed little interest in her case. Eventually, the police accompanied her back to her apartment where they took some pictures and made some notes.
Black said she has never heard anything more from the police.
Several days later her credit card company called to ask about some questionable charges. She called St. Maarten police to tell them the card had been stolen. They told her they had no record of her incident. Black said that with help from the school she filed a complaint about the way police handled the case. She has heard nothing.
"I don't think police responded properly to the incident," she said. "If I had been in Fort Worth and this happened there, there would have been three police, two ambulances and a fire truck there in 20 minutes."
St. Maarten is part of the Netherlands Antilles, an island chain in the Caribbean that is both an independent country and a Dutch territory. Much like Aruba.
It was almost a year ago that the conduct of police in Aruba became central to the mysterious disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway. She was on the island with classmates celebrating their high school graduation. There has been no sign of her since the night of May 29, 2005. Ever since, Holloway's family has been on a crusade to find out what happened to her. Much of the family's anger has focused on what they believed was the incompetence and indifference of Aruban police in the early days of the investigation.