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Assault Abroad Is Unlikely, but Not Impossible – Here’s How to Deal with It

When planning your next big trip, you’re likely imagining all sorts of adventures, from gliding through Venice in a gondola, to soaking in the aura of old shrines and temples in Tokyo. But being groped, harassed, or assaulted while you are on a holiday abroad is not a nightmare you imagine. While you are supposed to be away from all of life’s worries, assault can be one of the darkest horrors to encroach on your reality. But how do you deal with it if it ever happens to you while traveling?

The implications of assault in a foreign country can range from mental trauma and physical health risks, to multiple other barriers that victims may face such as cultural confusion, difficulty in navigating foreign laws, and getting legal and medical help in a country where they don’t speak the language.

We are going to cover all of those issues in this article, along with some precautionary measures you can take as a traveler. Although it is not up to you to prevent assault, there is power in knowing what you can do.

What Precautionary Measures Can You Take to Reduce the Chances of Assault Abroad?

Obviously, avoiding assault is a goal we all have in mind. You want to have a happy experience on your trip, and return safely and feeling refreshed. To ensure that happens, here are some precautionary measures you can take to reduce your chances of assault or sexual harassment abroad.

  • Research the cultural norms, gender norms, appropriate style of dress, and conventions of communication/interactions of the place you are going to visit beforehand. If you stand out too much, you can draw unwanted attention to yourself.
  • Do not stay in a hotel with a reputation that causes you to feel uncomfortable. Check a hotel’s ratings and reviews online before booking. Avoid booking rooms too close to the stairs or elevators.
  • Being entirely alone makes you a more likely target. You are advised to travel with a companion or in a group. If you are traveling alone, it is best to meet up with other travelers to have meals, and visit places together to avoid being identified as vulnerable.
  • Exercise caution when you socialize with strangers or new acquaintances abroad. Do not go to unfamiliar, secluded places with them. Also, avoid extremely crowded places where it is easy to get too close to you.
  • Never leave your drink or food unattended, especially if you are eating or drinking with people you don’t know. Spiking drinks or food with sedatives or other illicit substances is a common tactic of criminals.
  • Do in-depth research about the particular neighborhood you are planning to stay in, and find out the unsafe areas in that locality that you should avoid visiting.
  • Avoid hitchhiking or hailing a cab on a desolate street, especially after dark. Always book cabs and other rides through a recognized company application/website.
  • Always lock the doors and windows of your hotel room when you are away. Check under the bed and in the bathroom after you return to your room. Also, lock the door when sleeping in the room at night.
  • Travelers should always be cognizant of their safety when sharing communal sleeping quarters or camping in remote areas.
  • Purchase a personal protection device such as pepper spray upon arriving in your destination country. Be sure you are aware of all local laws before carrying any sort of personal protection device.
  • Always keep in touch with friends or family members while traveling. Prepare an emergency contact list that includes the numbers of your embassy or consulate, local police, and ambulance.

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Dealing with the Physical and Mental Consequences of Assault

In the unfortunate event of assault or sexual harassment, the first concern on your mind should be your physical wellbeing and mental health. Everything else comes next. Consider the following steps if you become a victim.  

  • Get to a safe place. It could be with a person you trust like a traveling partner, your hotel room, a hospital, or a police or fire station.
  • Find out the travel advisory of your country of origin. Just Google “travel advisory” followed by the country name. They will likely have a helpline number you can contact in the “where to get help” section. Alternatively, you can contact the national helpline number of the country you are in.
  • In extreme cases of physical pain or injury, you might need to locate your nearest hospital and get admitted immediately. Getting a medical check-up is important if the assault was sexual in nature, as it could result in a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.  
  • In a foreign country where you are neither familiar with the language or the laws, get in touch with your country’s embassy or consulate immediately. One quick Google search will get you the contact number if you do not have it already.
  • If you have travel medical insurance or travel insurance, contact your insurer immediately. They can correspond and help you get immediate medical help. Be sure to invest in proper insurance before your trip in order to be able to utilize these important benefits.
  • In case of a mental health episode triggered by assault, call local emergency services. You can also utilize the mental health services offered by your consulate. Additionally, you can claim the medical cost with your travel insurance, if the insurance plan covers mental health issues.

It is important not to blame yourself for the incident. It is never your fault. If you think you didn’t fight back hard enough, you should know that freezing is a common response to assault, where the mind and body shut down in shock. While cultural confusion is also natural, as you might think this is something common in a foreign culture, it is important to recognize mental discomfort and physical violation for what it is.

What Legal Actions Can You Take after an Assault?

Whether you decide to bring charges upon the perpetrator or not is entirely up to you. Whatever you decide is valid and not up for debate. Either way, you should know what legal steps you can take after assault in a foreign country.

  • The very first step is to seek embassy/consular assistance. You need to follow the guidelines provided to you so that the matter is dealt with following international laws for travelers.
  • The consulate officials can assist you with important information like which police station to file the report in. They can also correspond with a local legal practitioner who speaks your language.
  • Do not rely on non-official authorities, such as tour guides or hotel management staff, to resolve the issue internally. You can be easily misguided by these individuals.
  • Find out the period within which you must file a report for the case to be prosecuted. This is called the statute of limitations, and it varies by location, type of crime, age of the victim, and several other factors.
  • Get familiar with the laws of the country. The definition of assault is different across the world. In some countries, the victim might get arrested for reporting sexual assault, as it is seen as admission to the guilt of having sex before marriage. As difficult as this is, be wary of the law.
  • Depending on the laws of the country you are visiting, you may or may not be able to file a complaint internationally once you have left the country. It is best to report the crime immediately.
  • To increase the chances of prosecuting your attacker, you will need to preserve evidence. Taking photographs of your bruises and injuries and immediately getting a forensic exam is advised. Do not wash your body or change clothes before this exam, as it can remove DNA evidence.
  • You can seek help from international organizations dealing with assault. Also, look up national sexual assault hotlines and organizations if applicable.
  • You should understand that despite your best efforts, the case may not be taken to court due to lack of evidence and degree of assault. If you are unable to identify the perpetrator or they have fled the country, getting justice can become difficult as well.

Final Words of Advice

Assault under any circumstance is a terrible event that no person should have to endure. When coupled with the darkness of uncertainty and unfamiliarity, it can seem doubly terrifying. But there is no cause to be despondent about foreign travel. Although there is no way to completely eliminate your chances of becoming a victim of assault, keeping your safety in mind at all times during your trip can go a long way. Trust your instincts and err on the side of caution at all times. Do not be overly trusting of people you do not know well, and do your best not to put yourself in potentially dangerous situations that can be avoided.

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