What to Know
- A woman said she was sexually assaulted by a tour guide in Morocco years ago.
- She said she began describing her experience on social media.
- Numerous women have since come forward alleging the same tour guide also sexually assaulted them.
A Florida woman who says she was sexually assaulted by her tour guide on a trip abroad is warning other college-aged women traveling internationally to think twice before booking a trip with the same tour company after hearing from over a dozen women who claimed "Me Too."
While studying abroad in Spain in November 2013, Gabrielle Vega and two friends booked a weekend getaway to Tangier, Morocco, through the Seville-based company Discover Excursions.
Vega says a man named Manuel Blanco Vela was the leader of their tour in the North African country. In an interview on "Megyn Kelly Today" Wednesday, Vega described Vela as "charismatic" and said he made them feel very comfortable to be around him.
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Vela warned the girls against leaving the hotel at night, according to Vega, and urged them to have dinners and hang out on the property instead. On the last night of the excursion, Vega says Vela suggested having drinks in the hotel room the girls shared and ordered champagne from room service.
“He had his back turned to us, poured the champagne,” she recalled. “Then we drank a glass each and quickly things started to escalate.”
Vega says she began feeling “woozy” and fell asleep. When she got up at one point to use the bathroom, she recalled Vela entering the bathroom behind her and “putting himself in my mouth” before she passed out again. When she woke up the next morning, she said she had flashbacks of the assault and was sure Vela slipped something in her drink and drugged her.
“You feel so vulnerable, used and just gross. You want to shower, like, it all off and you can’t,” she said.
She said after returning to Spain, she mentioned it to one of her friends who was on the trip, who said she recalled Vega being in the bathroom with Vela for about 30 minutes.
Vega didn’t report the assault to police and was too ashamed to tell her parents, she said. After dropping out of school and spending years in therapy, Vega finally shared her story in a Facebook post last December when she heard that another woman was a victim of the same tour guide.
“It was like a wave of guilt and fear and just pure terror that this had been going on so many years later, so I just went to Facebook and started writing,” she said.
Vega told Kelly she was contacted by eight women who said they were also sexually assaulted by Vela within two days of posting her story. Her attorney Mark Eiglarsh told NBC 6 that another dozen women from across the country has contacted his office since the “Today” show segment aired.
Two additional women, who are Florida State University students that were also studying abroad in Spain at the time of their assault last spring, also shared their story alongside Vega on the NBC show Wednesday. They told Kelly they filed a police report with the school but were told by local authorities that Vela would likely not be prosecuted because of international prosecutorial jurisdiction limits since they were American, the attack happened during a trip to Portugal and it was reported in Spain.
Vega said she reached out to Discover Excursions twice after posting her story on Facebook, but they never responded. The company told Eiglarsh in an email that the “people involved in the case are no longer employed by them.”
Eiglarsh said the women speaking out are not looking for money from the company, but only want to “let everyone know about this predator so that we can decrease the chances of him raping another girl.”
Vega says she regrets not speaking out sooner, but it has taken years to heal. She’s hoping she can now make a difference.
“I just want women to be able to experience the world without fear, and to be free to be who they are without heaving the fear of being attacked by the person who’s there to protect you,” Vega said.
Discover Excursions did not respond to repeated requests for comment.