4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels

September 19, 2013
4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels

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On our first day in Heredia, Costa Rica, a small city about 45 minutes from the capital San Jose, a group of us went on a walk to get a feel for the town. As soon as we started walking, I heard some men call out to us. One student who speaks fluent Spanish told us that they were calling us sluts and whores.

I had been expecting this, since my friends who studied in Costa Rica three years ago warned me about the catcalling. But since it was my first day, I decided it was okay to be a little upset about being called a whore. Not because I have a problem with sex workers, but simply because… it just doesn’t feel good to be valued only for your sex parts.

Since that day, I have noticed less and less catcalling. I think this is because I choose to ignore the men around me in a way that I feel helps protect me. The following tips are based on my experiences of dealing with objectification in six countries over the past four years.

4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels

1. If the comment is just in passing, like “que lindaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” (how pretty), do your best to let it roll off you.

The man might actually think you’re pretty and be trying to pay you a compliment. Or, he’s just being creepy. Either way, if he just says something and you both walk away, feel free to be pissed off. But it might not be a great idea to escalate things by giving him the finger, calling him an asshole, or whatever else you really want to do.

2. If the dude is yelling at you for an extended period of time, do your best to exit the situation.

Maybe you’re in a crowd and it’s not easy to get away quickly. If so, make sure you’re very visible. Avoid corners. This can give you, if nothing else, a little more security in knowing that people notice you (as a human, I mean, and not as just a non-human slut). Some of my friends were in Heredia’s central park the other day and this happened to them: some guy wouldn’t stop saying gross things to them. So, they left and the guy gave up.

While escalating things might make your burning rage subside, it also has the potential to make the situation worse (a.k.a. more dangerous for you). On the other hand, a good ol’ fashioned public shaming might be in order. “DO YOU TALK TO YOUR MOTHER THAT WAY?” in the country’s native language should definitely be next to “Where is the toilet?” in your handy phrasebook.

4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels

3. The next level up: the dude is following you.

He won’t leave you alone even when you try to lose him or public shame him. Also, you might be alone, because maybe you expected to be treated like an actual human being instead of a sex object… I travel alone quite a bit and this has happened to me. In one instance, I was sitting on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi (humble brag alert) and a man came up to “practice his English” with me.

At first we had a pretty nice conversation about what I was studying, what he was interested in, etc. Then he started pressing me to tell him where I was staying in Varanasi, who I was with, what my phone number was, and other personal and contact details. I said no a few times. Finally he asked, “Don’t you trust me?” and I replied, “No. Also, I am going to leave now.” He protested and tried to get more information from me, but after I walked to a more public place he gave up. It was a pretty stressful situation.

In this instance, I recommend telling the dude firmly that you are not interested (you might have to do this more than once) and finding a public place where it will be obvious to other people what’s going on. I’ve found that having other women around, especially local ladies, can help.

4. Worst case scenario: you’re walking home alone at night, the dude is following you, and maybe even trying to make physical contact.

Firstly, if anything should happen to you while traveling in terms of sexual assault, rape, or harassment, remember that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU WEAR OR WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. It’s the guy’s fault. Period.

Secondly, I recommend taking a self-defense class or two before leaving for your destination. Even if you don’t become a Muay Thai/ Krav Maga master, you’ll get some basic skills that will give you confidence. Some people carry pepper spray. I don’t, but I have been considering it more and more seriously recently. Third, public places with lots of light are the best place to be. However… if you don’t live in Times Square, you might have to deal with less-than-perfect conditions.

4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels

So I recommend walking next to a busy street. This makes me feel more confident because if a dude is following me and tries to assault me, my plan is just to run into the street and wait for someone to stop or hit me and then stop. Is it crazy that I would rather be hit by a car than raped? Maybe, but this is my list of tips so feel free to reject them.

I’ve been followed home, catcalled, flirted with, harassed, touched, and just generally bothered in lots of different countries. The heartbreaking and INFURIATING reality of being a person with a female body is that we are pretty much always at risk. For me, traveling is still worth it. Leaving my house is still worth it. And just remember, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. EVER.


Photo for 4 Ways to Combat Harassment on Your Travels by Unspalsh.

About Natalie Greene

Natalie Greene has traveled and lived in Taiwan, Thailand, India, Turkey, China, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Germany and recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies from Long Island University Global. She is a Chicago native who loves adventure, eating new foods, and connecting with new communities…but hates packing! Most of her time is spent studying, thinking about, or participating in religious communities.

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