Congratulations! Studying abroad is an amazing experience. We want your study abroad experience to be the best time of your life. While sexual assault is NEVER the fault of the victim, it is not a time to throw caution to the wind. Many perpetrators are on the prowl for a victim.
Think about how a wolf attacks a flock of sheep. He watches, he waits. He identifies his prey. Then he separates the target from the herd.
We know, you are not a sheep. You identify as a strong, independent young woman, or man. But perpetrators can be experts at quickly gaining your trust. Here are some scenarios.
- You are studying abroad in Lyon, France. Your room mate is a girl from Japan, Suki. She is very sweet. Once afternoon, a guy in your class that you have chatted with several times from Brazil asks if you want to study together for a test. You suggest the library, he suggests your dorm room. You lightly protest. He says it will be nicer in your dorm room because you can play music. You decide that should be okay because Suki will probably be in the room. You get to the room and Suki is not in. You don’t want to seem rude so you decide it should be okay. Once inside, the Brazilian student sexually assaults you.
- You are in Australia for a semester. Four of you decide to go to the beach. At the beach you meet students from another university. One of the students is a handsome young man from Germany. He joins your group. At the end of the day he asks if he can walk you back to your room. He seems nice enough. You are walking down an isolated path when he suddenly throws you into some bushes and sexually assaults you.
- You are studying in Brazil. You and two of your friends go out for dinner and dancing. You meet several young men from Brazil and they join you for a drink. They suggest you all go someplace quieter as the dance club is too noisy. The six of you find a nice, cozy restaurant and chat until early morning. Your two friends want to go back home but you want to stay. You are having fun. One of the men walks your two friends’ home, the other two stay with you. When you get up to go to the ladies room, both of the men follow you and sexually assault you in the bathroom.
What is common in each of these scenarios?
- The perpetrator was skillful at getting you to let your guard down.
- The perpetrator separated you, or waited until you were separated from the group or person you were traveling with.
- The perpetrator built trust with you.
How to stay safe
- Have fun, enjoy meeting new people but don’t throw caution to the wind.
- Follow your gut. Many victims have a “feeling” something isn’t right just before an assault takes place
- You don’t have to be polite. It is okay to say no.
- Don’t separate yourself from the group or person you are traveling with.
- Be aware of cultural norms in the country you are traveling to. Looking at someone in the eyes when you speak to them in the USA is normal. In another country it may mean you are interested in that person.
- Blend in with the crowd. Be aware of your surroundings. Are the women wearing long skirts and long sleeve shirts? If you are wearing shorts and a tank top you are going to stand out.
- Don’t look like a tourist. Don’t swing an expensive camera around your neck. Don’t open a map on the street corner and turn around in circles looking lost.
What if I am sexually assaulted?
Don’t blame yourself. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. You may feel you can’t think straight. You are afraid. You don’t know what to do. There are so many questions running through your head.
- Are you in a safe place?
- Do you need medical attention?
- Do you want to report the assault to the police?
- Is it safe to report the assault to the police?
- Do I want to prosecute my perpetrator?
- Did I just get an STD?
- Could I be pregnant?
- Do I want other students in my study abroad program to know?
- Do I want my parents to find out?
- Do I want to report to the American Embassy?
If you don’t know the answer to those questions immediately, it’s okay. There are some things you can do until you decide what is right for you.
- If you are in a safe place, call a safe person to be with you.
- If you are not safe, call a safe person to come and get you.
- Do self-collection of evidence. Put all of the clothes you were wearing, bed sheets, and so on in a paper bag.
- If you have any injuries, take pictures
- If there is semen present, collect what you can in a hotel glass or cup and put it in the paper bag
- Call a SASHAA advocate internationally toll free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can help you through the ordeal, honoring your decisions. All calls are confidential.
To find out how to dial a SASHAA advocate from the country you are traveling in click here.