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Sexual Harassment & Assault

How Are You Viewed?

Thanks to Hollywood, most people in other countries think that they have Americans all figured out. Most people, when asked, will describe Americans as unbelievably rich, totally selfish, ignorant of the rest of the world, and sexually available. It's not your fault that these stereotypes exist, but please be aware of them and avoid the dangers that can come with those assumptions.
  • Choose your clothing to resemble as closely as possible that of your host culture. Avoid looking like a stereotypical American. In some countries, the typical American female attire could be perceived as clothing belonging to a prostitute.
  • Blend in, using the local behaviors as your guide.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as your smile and your stride can  mark you as a foreigner.

A Note about Being Conned:  Again with the Hollywood reference, but just so you know, con-artists really exist. They can end up being the most fashionable people you'll meet abroad, and their mission is to befriend Americans in order to obtain money, goods, passports, or sex from them. Avoid the common problem of placing yourself in escalating romantic situations because you’re concerned about offending the other person.  Be wary of smooth operators!

Advice Especially for Women

Unwanted Attention: In some places, open staring at women is common, and comments directed at women on the street can range from the sexually suggestive to the explicit. Men in some countries go so far as to touch or grab a woman in public. What can you do about this? Sometimes the best thing is to avoid it before it happens: 
  • Avoid making eye contact with men in public places. In many parts of the world, meeting a man’s gaze is widely viewed as an invitation to have sex. You may be followed, verbally harassed, and touched. 
  • An effective way to avoid stares while on the subway is to read.
  • Usually the best response to unwanted stares, comments, or touches is to ignore the harasser and to remove yourself from the situation quickly and calmly. Although verbal responses often work, cursing your harasser in the local language or English may result in being struck. Avoidance is the safest tactic.
  • If you continue to be followed, spoken to, or touched after repeated attempts to get away, remove yourself to a very public place. Tell your harasser firmly and calmly to leave you alone. Sometimes threatening to go to the police is effective, but sometimes the police are less than supportive.Contact SASHAAwho provide sexual assault prevention and response, regardless of age, race, gender and sexual orientation, wherever you are in the world.
Be Knowledgeable: Make your personal safety a top concern for yourself before you go and after your arrival. Ask your program staff about safety for women in your host culture.  After your arrival, you will meet local people, other study abroaders, and your program staff: use these as a resource to discover how to stay safe.  Observe from the local women what sorts of behavior provoke unwanted attention and pay attention to what they do to get out of that situation. These are some questions for which you should find answers:
  • What medical resources are available at my site?
  • When and where is it appropriate to be alone?
  • What, if any, signal do I give a man by being alone with him?
  • What types of clothes should I wear in different situations?
  • How should I respond to unwanted attention?
  • What should I know about traveling in my host city and elsewhere in the country?
  • What should I be aware of when out at bars, clubs, and other nightspots?

(Grateful acknowledgement is made to CIEE's "The Knowledge Series: Women" and the University of Minnesota.)