Sexual Harassment Abroad

My (male) friend sent me a text today;  a girl who was harassing him a few years ago posted #MeToo, the viral sexual harassment awareness campaign, on her Facebook. He found it ironic, to say the least. I can’t even imagine what ugly things social media might have waiting for men wanting to commiserate in the movement. Likewise, there are a lot of women who feel unable to speak out about this. My friend Kelly said it well, “I think a lot of women minimize what they’ve been through because they recognize that so many others have been through the worst, they have truly been raped or assaulted, and I haven’t.”

Usually, I’m not that into Twitter trends, but sexual harassment is something I think about a lot. Mostly, because whenever it happens to me, I always wonder if people will tell me it was my fault for traveling alone. For me, it’s hard to know where to draw the line between “being safe” and “being independent.” I don’t want to have to bring a man with me everywhere I go. I don’t want to avoid certain countries because other people are afraid of the customs there (even though it’s usually just the media playing things up). Then again, if something does happen, I’ve always assumed no one would care. I’ve always assumed that by traveling around by myself, anything bad that happens to me is “my fault” and I have to take responsibility for it.

For instance, I found Colombia incredibly safe. I had very few problems there. But given the stereotypes, if something had happened, I assumed the general reaction would have been, “what else can you expect in a country like Colombia?” The same goes triple in India.

But sexual harassment is not limited to one country, one culture, or even to one gender. I had more instances of groping in Europe than I did in India. The same stuff happens everywhere, and never have I enjoyed it. It’s always made me feel small, stupid, and blame myself.

Things I Can Think of Off the Top of My Head:

  1. Czech Republic: That time in Prague a guy walking by me slapped my butt and I turned around and screamed at him and he looked absolutely shocked that I reacted in that way.
  2. Germany: That other time in Berlin a guy walking by me slapped my butt in a crowd. I never figured out who did it.
  3. Hungary: That time in Budapest a guy on a crowded tram had his hand touching me ever-so-slightly and every time I moved away, he moved closer and started touching me ever-so-slightly again. I thought I was crazy until my roommate later told me the same thing had happened to her.
  4. Morocco: Every day I left my house in Morocco, men would follow me down the street and whisper sexual things in my ears and holler at me. Once, two other girls and I went into a church where the man groped them and we had to leave quickly. I still feel stupid for not dressing more conservatively in Morocco.
  5. Nepal: That time I got a haircut in Nepal and the guy started grabbing me and even pulled up my dress and I had to run out of the shop. I then felt stupid for going to get my haircut alone because I “should have known better in a place like Nepal.” When I told people I had met traveling, very few of them offered any sympathy for this.
  6. That time I told my friends in India I didn’t want to dance at the club because I was worried guys would come up and start dancing with me from behind; they all looked horrified. I told them in the US and Europe this happens all the time. If you are dancing, guys will come up and grab your hips and expect you to start dancing with them, even though you don’t know who is behind you. Again, Indian friends horrified. They told me if that ever happened in India the bouncer would throw the guy out. It was one of those, “wow, I never realized how bad my culture is,” moments.
  7. USA: That time I gave my drunk “friend” a ride home and he exposed himself.
  8. Colombia: When my taxi driver, Luis, kept trying to get me to kiss him.
  9. Undisclosed: That time my male friend casually told me a girl jumped on him while he was drunk and proceeded to have sex with him even though he didn’t want to and he had scratch marks all over him. I told him that was rape. From his reaction, I’m not sure he realized that.
  10. India: A random man in the park walked up to me and asked if I wanted to have sex with him. Again, I decided it was my clothes.



I’ve also, of course, met some really amazing men traveling around the world. Men so amazing they’ve challenged what I expect from a relationship or a friendship. And thankfully, I’ve met more good guys than bad guys.

I don’t want to scold ALL men for sexual harassment and I don’t want to tell women to change their behavior. Instead, I’ll just say to think before you speak when someone shares their experience. Don’t blame the victim and don’t downplay an experience because “men can’t get raped” or “that’s how people act in that part of the world.”

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    You have to read my me too–I was 2 feet away from my husband when traveling and it didn’t help. Don’t blame traveling alone.

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      Oh wow! I just read it on your Facebook. I hate it when kindness is used as a front for sexual harassment. It causes people to be suspicious of random acts of kindness. And you are right, being with a man does not prevent these things from happening.

  2. I’m sorry these things happened to you. I suspect there is not a woman anywhere that hasn’t been harassed or assaulted. And there are probably legions of men who have had these problems too.
    I see it as more a power grab than a sexual one – I am stronger, more powerful, more able, more deserving, etc. so I can use that power over you in anyway I feel, including sexually. It’s disgusting.

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      I agree its a dominance and entitlement issue. I think what is sad is that after anything like this happens, it is the fear that I’ll be blamed (or not taken seriously) that is worse than the harassment itself. Its so easy to dismiss these things because they happen so frequently. Luckily, more recently, I’ve met so many people who have gotten very upset by these instances, both men and women. Sometimes even more upset than me.

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