Sexual Harassment Abroad: Your Legal Rights

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When I was 17 and travelling to France with some classmates, we stopped for a few days of sightseeing in Paris.

At one point, I decided to branch off from the group and see a museum about a ten-minute walk away, but we all agreed to meet up in two hours. Meandering back from my museum, chocolate crepe in tow (I have a one-crepe-per-day policy when I’m in Paris), I was stalked by an older man.

This was a first for me and I got very scared, so I made the mistake of hurrying away from the crowd until we were on a series of raised walkways and alone. Finally, I was so frightened I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I turned around and screamed a series of profanities to the man. Fortunately, this did the trick. A year later, when I was revisiting Paris with my cousin, I told her the story and she said, ‘You’re lucky he didn’t get angry and attack you’.

This got me thinking, what are your rights when you’re abroad if you get harassed and decide to take a stand?

There are some extreme examples out there, for example in countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, rape victims are often charged as criminals for ‘having sex outside of marriage’.

And in Yemen, a woman only counts as half a witness in court and cannot testify at all in cases of adultery, libel, theft, or sodomy. But these absurd and tragic laws are more likely to affect native women than tourists. Let’s take a look at a few popular countries:

China: According to the country’s revised Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, article 58 states that sexual harassment towards women (and I would hope men too) is prohibited, and that the victim can ‘bring civil litigation to the People’s Court’, although it does not define what ‘sexual harassment’ specifically means.

Thailand: The Constitution of Thailand upholds equal rights and protection between men and women, and according to the UN, policies relating to women have become a regular part of the government agenda. You can take sexual harassment or stalking reports to the police, but it’s recommended that you bring a trusted Thai speaker with you.

Kenya: Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act states that anyone found guilty of sexual harassment can be imprisoned for up to 3 years, but this only applies to workplace situations, and typically only when the person harassing is in a higher position of power than the victim.

France: Last year’s #harcelementderue campaign on Twitter brought street harassment to national attention in France. But the law still has to catch up, with the country’s main harassment policy focusing strictly on sexual harassment, or ‘imposing on someone sexually connoted words or actions’, which is punishable by three years in prison.

Turkey: Around 50% of women in Turkey, especially Istanbul, respond to street harassment verbally. Although there is a 2-7 year imprisonment for those found guilty of sexual assault in Turkey, there is no definition of sexual harassment in the Turkish Criminal Code.

Overall, the law is often on women’s side, but as we know, the situation on the ground is usually worlds away from what’s tucked away in law books and government offices.

Take your cue from those around you if you’re uncertain about someone’s behaviour, and if you’re still not sure but are getting increasingly uncomfortable, it’s always better to nip a situation in the bud early and risk offending your harasser rather than waiting until more force is needed.

Harassment typically varies from country to country so as you research your next destination, take a quick look for typical harassment behaviours and how to deal with them effectively.

Have you been harassed abroad?  How did you handle it?

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About Author

Kelsey has been traveling and writing for most of her life, but things took a turn when studied abroad in Oxford and began to write about her travels. She has been lucky enough to visit places both at home and abroad that have opened her mind and given her a more global perspective. Kelsey's favorite things about traveling solo are the confidence it instills, the new stories she stumbles across, and, of course, the food.

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