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Exotic beaches, tropical forests, new friends, a fascinating tan. Is what travel blogs and social networks give us every day through amazing articles and pictures. They all tell us a story: an affair, a first solo trip, a celebration. But few of them tell us about the dark side of traveling alone. I’m talking about sexual harassment abroad. And we need to talk about it.

Sexual harassment is a reality that happens everywhere, even when we travel. However, the situation is even more unpleasant abroad: you are alone, sometimes you don’t handle the local language and probably you are not aware how sexual harassment is internalised over there. Let’s take a look to sexual harassment definition:

They are sexual connotation practices exercised by a known or unknown person often causing misery to the victim. May be unsolicited comments or touching not consented to by the victim, which creates a negative psychological impact.

What if we are victims of sexual harassment abroad? How should we react? Who can we ask for help?

What is normal in your country, it may not be in another one. However, we must learn to differentiate a local custom from someone saying “I like your tits”, as it happened to me in a souvenir shop in Jamaica. I was with some friends. My only reaction was to ignore the man and leave the place. Now imagine if this happens to you while you are traveling alone.

Valentina, from Chile, was 21 when she decided to go to Europe: I was on a bus going from Hamburg to Amsterdam. My seatmate was a thirty-something year old man. He said he came from Syria and we spent some time talking in English. They turned off the bus lights and I told my neighbor I wanted to sleep. Suddenly I woke up because I felt a hand touching me. The only thing I managed to do was to give him a slap, but he kept doing it and even tried to get to my breasts. I gave him a stronger slap and told him, “Hey, stop” but I don’t remember in which language. He played silly.

I didn’t dare to ask for help because I didn’t know how people would react (as in Chile, where you always think people are going to think you’re crazy or something). Also I didn’t know how to explain it in English. I thought I’d keep taking his hands off until he got bored. Finally he did and fell asleep or pretended to be asleep. We arrived to Amsterdam around 6:00 am and the guy wanted to keep talking just like that. I just grabbed my bag and ran away.

 

Acoso sexual en el extranjero

Nobody is allowed to touch your or make sexual related comments without your consent.Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Ili Valdes from Mexico was a victim of sexual harassment abroad. She was walking around Hanoi at 4 a.m. and suddenly she realised there was somebody following her on a motorbike: He followed me for half an hour. I took my Go Pro with the stick attached, determined to beat him. The guy insisted that I should go with him on his bike, until I found some guards of a building. I was talking to my husband online all the time.

Karin, a blogger from Slovakia, author of Girl Astray faced a bad experience with her Couchsurfing host in the United States:  I arrived to a nice, comfy flat in Oakland and was greeted by its owner. He was about 60 years old, bald and had a big belly. His home was beautiful and filled with all sorts of representations of Buddha. Good, I thought. He took me for a ride in Oakland, offered me food, and even took me for a concert and a party with his friends. Apart from this, he talked in a way that made me assume he is actually gay, so when he offered me a massage, I didn’t think much about it. I didn’t really want to but he kept offering it and insisting in subtle ways until I said ok.

He told me I should take my pants off so that he can massage my butt muscles. He even asked me if I wanted a breast massage. It was all very discomforting but I just put on a polite mask —I didn’t have money to go to a hostel. Afterwards, when I asked him directly about his orientation, he just laughed and said that he was in no way gay! …awkward. He insisted on hugging me. Now, I would advise anyone in such situation to just get the fuck out of there really quickly, however, I thought of how I needed to stretch my budget —and I decided to risk it. Also, on the first day, I was stupid enough to purchase a camera online which would arrive during the week.

After six days another girl arrived and she literally saved me. Until then, I was thinking perhaps I was just making it up in my mind, but she felt exactly the same way —threatened. She helped me to change the delivery address for my camera so I would just pick it up elsewhere so we could go away and just sleep in the airport for the following nights. Now I have one more “When I was young and stupid” story to tell. I made sure to leave a long, detailed neutral review to that pervert predator on CS. I even got some messages from different people thanking me for the honesty.


 

The intention of this article is not to scare women who want to travel alone nor create a bad reputation for certain cultures or countries. But we should talk about an issue that afflicts us, but we need to find tools to know what to do in such situations.

 

Acoso sexual en el extranjero

We want to keep on living experiences that fill our souls. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

We want to continue traveling alone, we want to continue using Couchsurfing, we want to continue walking at 4 a.m. in Hanoi if we feel like, we want to continue living experiences that fill our souls.

How to avoid sexual harassment abroad and what to do if it happens to us?

 

♦ Inform yourself about local costums

In some countries, the way you dress is a form of respect. Try to learn and follow the local dress patterns to avoid attracting too much attention. Also it might help you to avoid being robbed.

♦ Ask locals and other travellers

No one provides better information that a local or a traveller who knows the place well enough to tell you where you can move with confidence.

♦ Ask for help

If you are alone and you feel in danger or threaten, try to go near other people, maybe other women or anybody that seems safe to you. In this world there is more people willing to help you than to harm you.

♦ Ignore perverts

Sexual harassment is not about getting sexual gratification, but to exert power over you. If someone on the street makes a comment of a sexual nature to you, do not engage, he is only seeking attention.

♦ But if he touches you…

There are countries where people are going to help you no matter what, but there are other cultures where sexual harassment is silenced and even justified. In some circumstances to acknowledge and confront the harasser is useless and even dangerous, but if you scream really loud, you will achieve people’s attention. The pervert will feel embarrassed and he will think twice before bothering you again. Only scream if you are in a safe environment and the bully doesn’t threaten your physical safety.

♦ Denounce to the closer authority office

It is true that many times women are not heard and sexual harassment it’s no taken seriously, but we must not fail to denounce these situations. ⇒ I also suggest making a list of some places such as hospitals, embassies, police stations if you should report or appeal for medical assistance in case of sexual abuse (you must check in the first three days after a rape as medical evidence should be collected within 72 hours). ⇒ Make a list with useful emergency words in the language of the country you are visiting.

In case you are doing Couchsurfing, Karin says that since that episode she always make sure her hosts has had male and female guests alike to avoid an unpleasant surprise on arrival. This is her advice: In case you feel bad with your host be firm and decisive and speak loudly and clearly, right from the start. Also reach out to others within the community, even to those who declined your request before. Most importantly, trust your gut.

Personally, have a pepper spray that makes me feel more secure. However, some countries doesn’t allowed this type of articles. But you can put on your purse a spray deodorant. If someone tries to touch me, he will be a good spray of his eyes. And it won’t be nice. Thanks to Viviana, a Illi Valdés and Karin for sharing their experiences.

If you have experienced sexual harassment abroad or any suggestions, feel free to share with us in the comments below.

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Fran Opazo

Journalist with a mention in Digital Communication and has a diploma in History. I collaborate in different media outlets and I do public speaking about the digital transformation in the tourism industry. In 2018 I started working in a Digital Marketing Agency and writing SEO content for the Official Promotion of Chile for the local and foreign market, Chile Travel and Chile Es Tuyo. If you need my professional services, do not hesitate to send an email to lavidanomade@gmail.com. Let's see each other on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

14 Comments

Sarah · 9 March, 2016 at 4:09 pm

In Kenya I get the comments all the time. Yesterday it went further. Whilst sitting by the pool at a hotel, an askari approached me. He grabbed my wrist (pretty hard) and dragged me onto the beach. Said we needed to get out of sight of the hotel! Dragged me down the beach then told me he loved me (I’d never met him before). Said he wanted to kiss me and made a move. I fought a bit and finally got away, hurting my wrist in the process. Ran as fast as is possible on soft sand. Reported it to the hotel owner (a friend) and she immediately fired him. Unfortunately not an uncommon experience but at least it didn’t go further.

Fran Opazo · 7 March, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Thank you for commenting and reading!

Fran Opazo · 7 March, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Wow Cristina, that’s really something. I totally agree with you.

Cristina Luisa · 29 February, 2016 at 8:03 am

This is a very important topic that is seldom discussed. I have been the victim and almost-victim of sexual harassment while traveling abroad. It’s hard to know exactly what to do, according to local social norms, but my advice is to protect yourself no matter what locals do. If you feel uncomfortable, then it’s not cool. I agree with carrying pepper spray. In more dangerous countries, I carry a knife. I’d also suggest that ALL females take self-defense or martial arts classes, whether or not you plan to travel alone. Knowing how to protect myself not only makes me feel more confident, but it has also stopped what could have been a rape.

goblinette · 29 February, 2016 at 6:01 am

I love reading a useful article once in a while. I somehow attract all kinds of perverts when I travel alone. Probably, because I look younger than I really am. That is why I prefer to travel with a friend or partner. And when I travel alone, I avoid dark alleys and places that are not full of other people and don’t drink any alcohol. I miss some fun things because of that, but I haven’t had any really problematic encounters in a few years.

Nicole Louise · 28 February, 2016 at 9:06 am

It makes me really angry that this day in age these are STILL things women need to worry about and that some women will never experience the world because they are so threatened by these kind of people. This tip was super helpful ad informative. Not enough people are writing about this kind of thing so thanks for covering it and sharing with us all!

Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld · 27 February, 2016 at 8:30 am

Great tips on a topic that really isn’t discussed enough. Fortunately I have never been in this situation – and tbh suffered worse sexual harassment at home! but I think women need to be strong within themselves and have a strategy for dealing with any situation as it arises.

Jo · 26 February, 2016 at 5:00 am

I think we, as solo female travelers, should always stand up for ourselves. I haven’t been majorly harassed but you know some jerks in clubs trying to touch your butt or act sleazy – I would just turn around and slap them – simple and gets the message across. I dont care about the consequences or that I am in a different country. I guess coming from India makes me more “used to” such occurrences and how to deal with it.

Erica · 26 February, 2016 at 3:41 am

This is a great informative post. It’s horrible that women has to go through these things, that it’s even something to add to our worries. The best we can really do is to be prepared, and it’s exactly articles like this that will definitely help spread awareness. This article might just save another sexual harassment victim. Thank you for this.

Emma Hart | Paper Planes and Caramel Waffles · 25 February, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Although travelling is a great experience and very often people can go on their journey without a hitch, this article is a reminder that things can sometimes be difficult and we can easily end up in a situation that is uncomfortable or difficult to deal with. I hope you girls were all okay and hopefully you didn’t encounter many other experiences like this abroad.

Rachel · 25 February, 2016 at 5:00 pm

These are great tips. I never thought much about dealing with this abroad, especially to the extent some of these situations went!

Karin · 25 February, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Thank you for putting this together! Those are some good advices, I wouldn´t have thought about the deodorant spray…

Jenni · 25 February, 2016 at 9:48 am

I had the oddest experience verging on sexual harassment in Myanmar. Came out of a toilet stall at a restaurant, and a man was in the women’s restroom insisting on washing my hands, telling me how pretty I was, and creeping me out big time. But in the end, he put his hand out for a tip. It still creeped me out. I’m not young and naive, but there is no age limit to questionable or threatening behavior. Thanks for posting this.

Solo Female Travelers To Follow Around The World · 1 April, 2016 at 4:12 pm

[…] writes a lot about traveling as a woman with valuable posts like what to do when you’re a victim of sexual harassment abroad. As a Latin American traveler, she has a bilingual blog in both English and Spanish. Also as a […]

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