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How To Protect From Sexual Assault While Traveling

sexual-assault

Sexual Assault Definition

First and foremost, I hate talking about women in the sense of being a victim, ever.  Sometimes, the topic just needs to be brought up.  Any version of sexual assault will cause controversy or drama, especially when it’s related to my passion, travelSince I’ve covered several dating stories, I also need to include the not-so-great stories.  Unfortunately, no matter how much I would love to avoid the topics that cause stress while traveling, it doesn’t make them any less real or non-existent.  Stuff happens while traveling, as it happens when you are back home.  Knowing how to deal with it is what I think is more relevant than anything else.  So, I’m here to help others learn how to protect themselves and deal with it if it does.

This article is going to be a discussion on not only how to protect yourself from a sexual assault but also my accounts of why I chose to write this article. It happens, and it’s scary, so I hope you can learn a little something from my experiences and advice not to have to go through the same thing.

It’s Your Fault

It angers me when something does happen, and we are told it’s our fault for going to a certain location, looking at someone in a certain way, saying hello, or dressing in something other than a tent. This is just one of the reasons why women don’t report sexual assault, as they are made to feel like they have done something wrong. 

Well, ladies, no matter if we dress a certain way, act a certain way, travel abroad, you name it, it’s not our fault when it comes to being touched or addressed in a manner that is inappropriate. We get used to being the one who is supposed to just take it, and when we push back, the world puts us in a category.  Forget that!  It’s just time to take the power back and figure out how to deal with it and protect yourself while still doing all those amazing things in life.  So, while we all love traveling, and things can happen anywhere at any time, learning how to protect yourself from sexual assault could be a vital skill.

 

sexual-assault

 

So, What Happened With Me?

A few months ago, I experienced sexual assault.  It was one of those days you can take from the book of “You can’t make this shit up.”  At 2:30 pm and, I was on my way back upstairs from throwing my laundry in the dryer.  My apartment was on the 5th floor, and the laundry room was on the 1st floor.  I was renting an Airbnb in a secured apartment in the La Palme d’Azur building in Cannes, France, which was a really nice spot on the ocean.  The apartments were newer and had a beautiful view of the ocean.  It was not an area I would see or anticipate as being dangerous.

 

sexual-assault

As I walked no more than 50 steps from the laundry room to get to my elevator, I came across a 30-something-year-old man with several bags in his hand. Being my normal self, I smiled and said hello.  I’ve learned that attempting to speak French here leads people to believe that I speak it, and they go into a lot of words I can’t even begin to guess at, so I stick with Hi or Hello instead. Doing it this way at least helps to indicate to the locals that I really do not speak the language.

As this man walks by, he literally stops in his tracks and turns around to start his compliments regarding my beauty and my body (I could at least infer that much).  It’s nice to be complimented on how you look, but there’s a point when compliments go too far.  I said thank you and walked 5 more steps to my elevator.  The elevator immediately opened up as I neared it, and he cut me off.  He stepped in first to ride the 5 flights up to a location he was not going to.  On the way up, he began to ask for my phone number in broken English.

My response was no, I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.  I was hoping this would be the end of it.  I smiled politely and attempted to ignore him as I had no desire to discuss it any further.  He didn’t stop there.  He continued the compliments and proceeded to grab my hand to kiss it and murmur how beautiful I was.  While, again, the compliment was much appreciated, the feeling became even more uncomfortable by the second.

I still didn’t think much of it because he was a young guy, and I am, well, not.  Lol.  Then he suggested in very broken English that he was coming up to my room to have his way.  My response was, “No, Merci.”  Even with that very clear and blunt statement, he decided that when the elevator opened.  Rather than step aside, he decided to move and block my path.  At that moment, everything changed, and what I believed was an innocent dumb kid with a brief infatuation turned into something way more.  My fight or flight kicked in.  He blocked the entrance and began backing me into the far corner to try to kiss me as I turned my face to avoid the attempt.

I pushed him back a little, but evidently not far enough.  He came back at me much more firmly, trying to lodge me back into that corner.  At that point, my politeness completely went away.  Let’s just say this time, I shoved so hard against the wall that I do believe he bounced.  I stated very clearly, along with a few expletives, about how unacceptable that was as I stepped out of the elevator.  Thankfully, this time, he got the point and didn’t exit after me.

The Afterthought

As I got off the elevator, I couldn’t help but think if he had been a larger man that, things could have ended differently. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon in a populated hotel, and I definitely didn’t expect this to happen. Had this been in a dark hallway or late at night, I would have questioned my own actions. I didn’t think twice about this happening in an open, well-lit hallway, a typically populated elevator, and in such a public place.  I can also tell you that’s not the first awkward experience I’ve had in France, or for that matter around the world, where men have chased me down.  This was just one of the experiences that really made me take a pause.

The next occurrence also happened in Cannes. This time I was approached by another individual walking towards me on a populated and beautiful boardwalk.  This individual decided to turn around and walk with me for over 10 minutes. He kept trying to speak with me, and I kept replying I don’t speak French. Even though I walked quickly and interjected a word of thank you and goodbye, the point certainly wasn’t getting across.  I hate being rude, but I figure people are generally able to read social cues and give up when the interest is not being reciprocated.  Apparently, in France, it’s more a game for them. This individual kept on following me, and I even diverted to a populated beach off of the busy sidewalk.  He proceeded to follow me down the stairs.

All I can remember thinking at that point was, wasn’t he going somewhere or doing something that was taking him in the opposite direction?  How did he have time to just change the direction he was walking to follow me?  It was flattering for a minute but then became very scary. I felt very uncomfortable to have that level of attention that was escalating to the point of confrontation, especially in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language.  Upon walking down the steps, he asked if he could join me in my apartment I told him, “NO!”  He continued to follow me down to the beach, where he finally wandered away.

The First Sexual Assault

Those two experiences, unfortunately, were not the only experiences in France, there was a third many years before these two.  Several years before this, I ended up with another questionable experience in Paris. On this occasion, I smiled and said hello to multiple people on the way from my hotel to the Eiffel Tower (which was about 5 miles away).  It was late morning as I made my way towards the icon, I walked through a ton of busy streets. This man, who was standing alongside a bakery smoking a cigarette, decided he was going to walk with me after I smiled.  He wanted to take me to coffee, and I politely declined.  He kept walking with me and then asked me several blocks later if I’d rather get a drink.  Again, I said no.  He was persistent and asked if, instead, I’d prefer marijuana or a meal.  He ended up walking next to me for about a mile in total, and I kept speeding up to try to lose him.  Thankfully, he finally gave up.

But again, I thought this was one random person and one random situation in France.  Let’s just say, I was wrong.

Did I Call the Cops?

The host of the individual condo called me and asked me to further describe what happened during the sexual assault.  I did.  He then asked if I wanted to go to the cops about this.  For me, involving the police for someone who attempted a forced kiss in an elevator is extreme.  From there, I was informed that while they “have” cameras, their security will only check the cameras if I file a police report. The owner also tells me, “This has never happened before,” and you should probably take precautions.  My response was, “What precautions? “He told me, by me saying No, Merci, it meant that I may still have been inviting him to try harder. WHAT?   I was just waiting for him to tell me straight up that because you’re a woman and you’re pretty, it’s your fault, and I must have said or done something to cause it.

So, my response included something along the lines of this: Not only are you not able to tell me if there are cameras in the elevators to protect other women, but it was my fault, and I should have called the police.  I didn’t want to involve the police as I was here on vacation and wasn’t interested in stirring up a bunch of drama. So, I had to make a decision, involve the police, and ruin the remaining part of my day, possibly week, or month until this individual was found, or determine how I personally would deal with this if it ever happened again.  I chose to make a plan for any potential future issues instead.

Hotel Response

The host of the individual condo called me and asked me to further describe what happened during the sexual assault.  I did.  He then asked if I wanted to go to the cops about this.  For me, involving the police for someone who attempted a forced kiss in an elevator is extreme.  From there, I was informed that while they “have” cameras, their security will only check the cameras if I file a police report. The owner also tells me, “This has never happened before,” and you should probably take precautions.  My response was, “What precautions? “He told me, by me saying No, Merci, it meant that I may still have been inviting him to try harder. WHAT?   I was just waiting for him to tell me straight up that because you’re a woman and you’re pretty, it’s your fault, and I must have said or done something to cause it.

So, my response included something along the lines of this: Not only are you not able to tell me if there are cameras in the elevators to protect other women, but it was my fault, and I should have called the police.  I didn’t want to involve the police as I was here on vacation and wasn’t interested in stirring up a bunch of drama. So, I had to make a decision, involve the police, and ruin the remaining part of my day, possibly week, or month until this individual was found, or determine how I personally would deal with this if it ever happened again.  I chose to make a plan for any potential future issues instead.

How to Prepare 

To be prepared from here on out, I will ensure that if I sense anything is off, I will start noting all the details. Colors of clothing, facial hair & features, hat, type of shoes, etc., and commit them to memory.  This at least, would allow me to be able to provide a better description than a man in his 30s, a 5’7”-5’8” French guy with brown hair and a beard.  That’s a very common description here, and while I could tell you he had a coat on, I couldn’t tell you the color.  So, this certainly taught me that any time my Spidey senses go up in the future, I will begin to take some serious notes and not worry if I’m being rude to someone in a foreign country.

Another step that I have already taken when I travel is that I don’t tend to go out at night by myself.  I realize there’s a ton of nightlife and so many amazing places to go when I travel, so if I do desire to go out, I will ask someone to join me. Whether it’s another person from my hostel, a group tour that is a pub crawl, or possibly even going on a date.  Meeting people abroad is a process, and you never know who you will meet, but meeting in numbers is safer than venturing out by yourself.  Be safe, be aware, be in control, and make sure someone else has your location and knows who you’re going out with.

Now, those are just a few steps to begin to prepare to stay safe. While I fully believe that I will continue to smile, say hi, and be friendly, I will never allow anyone to attempt to follow me. This will be shut down immediately before it can become an issue, even if it makes me look like the “ugly American.”  Sorry folks, I had to learn the hard way, and now, if I have to be a stereotype, well, so be it. I hate that it has to be this way, but I’d rather be mean and safe than deal with people who think they are entitled to touch just because you say hi or smile.

Weapons For Defense

Another way to take care of yourself is a bit more violent in nature.  While in most places and countries, you can’t bring weapons, you can find ways to protect yourself.  In many places, you can have mace, but you’ll want to know for sure before throwing that in your luggage.  Guns, outside of the US, are not really an option.  Most countries don’t have the same philosophy about guns, but a knife may be worth throwing into your checked luggage if you understand and are trained to use it properly during a sexual assault.

Self Defense

The other thing I started after this last sexual assault experience was that I began self-defense classes.  I’m taking a variety of MMA or mixed martial arts courses, and if the situation arises to have to bounce someone off of an elevator, it’ll hurt them a lot worse than a bounce. I can 100% recommend that you learn some form of self-defense before you travel to protect against sexual assault.  Simple moves where you can lay your attacker on the ground before he thinks twice could mean the difference between your safety and an accomplished rape.

Related Post: Essential Travel Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers

Also, think about what you have in your hands that you could use to harm someone who is coming after you when you’re out walking.  A set of keys, positioned in between your fingers, can serve as a solid deterrent if stabbed into their body.  You can pick your location, but if it comes down to it, pick places that will certainly have an impact.  Personally, if I can aim for the eye or the throat, I will ensure my attacker will not be able to come back after me after the first strike.  Now, if you don’t have a weapon close by, you can choose to use your own body to take out the individual.  Kneeing someone in the groin may work momentarily, but taking out their windpipe can be much more effective, and doing both is far more effective than the run-and-scream technique.

Some Common Tips To Protect from Sexual Assault

  • Awareness: Being aware of your surroundings is essential. Pay attention to the people and places around you, especially in unfamiliar or isolated locations.
  • Trust Your Instincts: If something or someone makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. It’s always better to be cautious.
  • Travel in Groups: When possible, travel with friends or in a group, especially at night or in unfamiliar areas. There’s safety in numbers.
  • Stay in Well-Lit Areas: Avoid walking alone in dark or poorly lit areas, as they can be more vulnerable to attacks. Stick to well-populated, well-lit streets.
  • Plan Your Route: Before going out, let someone you trust know your plans and expected return time. Share your location using a tracking app or feature on your phone if available.
  • Be Cautious with Alcohol: Drinking excessively can impair your judgment and increase vulnerability. Consume alcohol responsibly and be mindful of your drink to prevent tampering.
  • Secure Your Drinks: Never leave your drink unattended, and always accept drinks directly from the bartender or server. Be cautious of accepting drinks from strangers.
  • Learn Self-Defense: Consider taking self-defense classes to learn how to protect yourself physically in case of an attack. Confidence in your abilities can be a powerful deterrent.
  • Carry Personal Alarms or Safety Apps: Personal safety alarms or mobile apps that can send distress signals to your contacts can be useful tools to have on hand.
  • Use Rideshare Services Safely: When using rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, confirm the driver’s identity and the vehicle’s details before getting in. Share your ride details with a friend or family member.
  • Trustworthy Companions: Be cautious about accepting rides from strangers. Ensure that the driver is someone you know or a reputable taxi service.
  • Protect Your Personal Information: Be cautious about sharing personal information, such as your address or exact whereabouts, with people you don’t know well.

My Conclusion

Now, with all of this being said, I do not believe that violence is the answer, but I do believe in protection, and one has to think about it to use it.  If someone is trying to hurt you by sexual assault, being a victim needs to be at the bottom of your list.  I’ve been lucky for a very long time as I’ve been oblivious and acted like the traditional tourist many times over, but you never know; someday, that may catch up.  I do believe in taking self-defense classes, whether you are traveling or not, it’s just good practice.  It is a great way to ensure you can protect yourself in case someone tries to take advantage.  I do not believe that locking yourself in your home and not experiencing the world is the answer.  Just be prepared for anything.

So, for all you other ladies, learn to protect yourself, live life, and always, always, Travel Till You Drop!

 

 

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About Jill

Hi, Jill Here

Hi! I’m Jill, a Dallas, Texas girl traveling the world. After a career in the Air Force and touring over 50 countries later, my need to explore keeps going! It’s time to rock & roll and find all those places I never knew I was missing.

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