We do our best to give female travelers tips to avoid the worst case scenario–being assaulted abroad–but the fact is that it still happens.
Though the likelihood of an assault is far exaggerated by anxious parents and partners and there are many ways to keep yourself safe, bad luck can and does happen to us all. In the worst case scenario, if you are assaulted while traveling (either physically or sexually), there are a number of things to keep in mind to help you move forward.
First, find a safe place.
Whether a police station, a hostel, your hotel room, a friend’s house – get somewhere where you’re out of the reach of further harm. If you can, find someone you trust – a traveling partner, a family member, and get in contact with them. In the best cases, they can be with you physically, but even otherwise it is good to have someone you trust to talk to.
Ascertain if you need medical attention.
If you underwent a sexual assault, even if there are no other physical injuries and you’re not ready for a police examination, you may need to consider a pregnancy or STI/ STD test.
Some women may not want to report assaults to the police, as this can potentially be a traumatic experience in and of itself. The length of the procedure, language barriers, examinations, the attitude of the police themselves; all of these can be huge challenges.
Decide if you’re able or willing to speak to police.
The important thing is for you to decide what you feel comfortable with and are able to do. If you do feel like you can go to the authorities, it can often be very important later on if you decide to press charges. You also will need a police report if you need to claim insurance for stolen goods or medical treatment.
If you had your passports or money stolen, locate your embassy immediately and go there. They are trained to deal with citizens in distress, and can issue an emergency passport and help arrange return journeys.
Right after an assault is a very intense time. You may be experiencing a lot of fear, confusion or pain. It is up to you to decide what you want to do – remember, there is no right or wrong. Some women prefer to keep traveling. Some women prefer to go home. Either one is fine and dependent on circumstance and situation.
You may find that it takes you a long time to recover from your assault, or that you’re now uncomfortable with things you would previously have been unaffected by. This is 100 percent normal. It takes time to heal, and you have to do it at your own pace.
Don’t be hard on yourself, and don’t second guess yourself. It wasn’t because you were traveling, because you were careless, because you were stupid, because you deserved it. It was just because of bad luck, and that can happen at home or abroad. The worst thing you can do is put blame on yourself or the country you were in. It is a sad fact that these things are a global phenomenon.
This page gives a list of crisis centers available in 19 different countries, most of which have online teams that can assist anywhere in the world.
There are many women who have undergone these experiences while traveling, and recovered. The important thing is to remember that everyone reacts in different ways. You may want to start traveling again immediately by throwing yourself into another country. You may want to stay home for a while. You may want to talk about it endlessly, or not at all. Just go with what you’re comfortable with, and whatever makes you feel safest and gives you relief.
Like many other women, GGG founder Kelly Lewis was a victim of sexual assault abroad. If you want to share your experiences and find support, we will do everything in our power to get you the help you’re looking for.
pic credit: RebeccaYouseffi.com