Yesterday I read an article titled, Rape of American Women in India Shows how Women Travel with Peril in the L.A. Times. The article deals with the recent rape of a 30-year-old American woman visiting India who was assaulted by the men she hitched a ride back to her hotel from. I’m glad the article points out that, while it probably wasn’t the best idea to hitch a ride home with strangers in another country, rape crimes are always the fault of the rapist not the victim. The article is well-worth a read if you haven’t seen it already and comes complete with this shocking graphic.
The sad thing is, this actually isn’t shocking. In the world we live in women travelers are raped and attacked all the time. I would venture to guess several times a day somewhere in the world crimes are committed against female travelers (male too, but at the moment I’m fueling my feminist fire).
As a woman who loves to travel, who isn’t too big or threatening, and who doesn’t have many languages to bargain with, of course this concerns me. Especially because, again and again, India is the country where these horrible crimes are happening. And that just happens to be the same place that I’ll be studying abroad starting this August. Of course this concerns me, but you take precautions. When I was traveling alone for the first time I always made sure I was back at my hostel before the sun set and was very careful about getting in a car with someone I didn’t know or engaging with strangers. It’s sad that female travelers have to think about these things. But these days we do.
Here are a few of my meager tips for traveling safely as a woman:
- Always leave enough time for yourself to get home before dark–or have a confirmed plan with someone you trust for how you’re going to get home after sunset.
- Always look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing–you’re a less likely target.
- Talk to strangers. You’re traveling after all. Get to know people, yes, but don’t give out information about where you’re staying or anything that could jeopardize your safety.
- If something bad happens to you, seek out another woman for help. In some countries it might do you more harm than good to go to the police, but it all depends.
- Do your research. You can’t always prevent bad things from happening but it certainly helps to make sure the places you are staying are safe and that you ask locals for their advice about areas you are nervous about.
- And it’s not a bad idea to carry something like pepper-spray. I’ve yet to do this myself but I’ve heard it can be effective.
And although this violence against women does scare me for my physical safety, what scares me more is that it will keep women from traveling and from pursuing their passions. What scares me most is that they will feel like they can’t go somewhere they’ve always loved to go and they’d rather just stay home. I don’t want to live in a world where women are not only silenced by spouses, cultural standards, or acts of violence, but also silenced because they don’t feel safe enough to participate in the global conversation.
If we don’t travel, we can’t witness first-hand the houses that still need to be rebuilt in New Orleans, or the little girls who need new homes in China, or the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. And if we don’t witness these things firsthand we’ll never be able to most effectively work towards their resolutions. And I think that would be a shame. I for one will not let this keep me from traveling. Not only because I think it is so important for women to participate in the global conversation, but also because I have faith that things will get better.
Look at India. The MARD campaign is really starting to take off in lieu of these recent events. MARD (Men Against Rape and Discrimination) was started by Bollywood film director, Farhan Akhtar, and asks Indian men to join him in redefining what a “real man” looks like. It’s hit the internet by storm and they’re mustachioed mascot is nothing less than charming. I have faith things will get better because of campaigns like this.
So, no, I will not stop traveling. Will you? What tips/encouragement would you give to other female travelers?