We were curious about the topic of sexual harassment abroad so we put the following question to users of the social news website Reddit:
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“Which countries do female travelers get sexually harassed in the most?”
Initial reactions were varied:
“I hear Italy is the worst with regards to European countries.”
“South Africa isn’t that bad. Technically it’s the rape capital of the world, but in the tourist areas you’ll be fine.”
– Peter W
Sex may be a prioritized interest for many travelers, but there are just as many who seek to avoid sexual confrontations on their adventures. In valuing those people who want to stay out of harm’s way, here’s TravelSexLife’s list of The Worst Places for Sexual Harassment Abroad (part one). But…
You’re not going to get a Top Ten list.
At least, not an official TravelSexLife one. Let me explain.
Every country has its own strengths and weaknesses – and for each traveller, any country’s detriments could be considered a strength. The passiveness with which Japanese women are associated, for example, works in the favor of many Western males who like the idea of submission from their partner. On the contrary, Western women don’t typically marry Japanese males, as those men are not really seen as “romantic.” I know I’m stereotyping, but the stereotype does exist – or at least it does for some cultures.
The concept of sexual harassment works a bit like this, as well. If you look at any two specific families from wildly different countries with different customs, one family’s idea of aggressive flirtation may be tantamount to rape in the other family’s eyes. In order to come up with any definitive list, we’d have to define sexual harassment as it pertains to all countries – matters of legality, age, familial consent, religious belief – and find some common ground.
It turns out, a consistent common ground is nearly impossible when you’re looking at the spectrum of our globe’s sexual diversities.
To illustrate one dilemma when making such a list, we’ll use The International Statistics and Criminal Justice’s rankings of the countries with the highest rape statistics (100,000 per capita population).1. North America 2. South Africa 3. Oceania 4. Latin America / Caribbean 5. West / Central Europe 6. East Europe 7. East Africa 8. East / South-East Asia 9. Southeast Europe 10. North Africa
However, a 1,000 per capita list from NationMaster depicts something very different.1. Lesotho 2. New Zealand 3. Belgium 4. Iceland 5. Norway 6. Israel 7. Finland 8. Chile 9. Mongolia 10. Ireland
And when we look away from per capita lists and focus on actual reported rapes, we get these statistics (2009):1. France 2. Germany 3. Russia 4. Sweden 5. Argentina 6. Belgium 7. Philippines 8. Spain 9. Chile 10. Lesotho
One issue (amongst many more that I can’t yet recognise at this point), is that providing simple lists removes important contextual clues to understand the data. In America, society publicly denounces rape, and as such, there is less potential emotional duress in reporting a rape than in a country that demonizes the women who are assaulted. In many Muslim societies, for example, women may be put to death for being raped. Many women fall victim to discrimination from even their own families – their violated chastity viewed as a disgrace to their blood. In many of these cases, the women will be put to death in an “honour killing” to preserve the integrity of the family.
In some Latin America countries, more than half of all women who die in a year, die at the hands of their partners or ex-partners in “crimes of passion.” These women are often killed simply on account of their partner having had a fit of jealousy or because they had broken up.
Furthermore, many South Asian women are harassed, tortured, driven to suicide, or burned to death in the attempt to extort more money from their family; this is known as a “dowry death.” Though the Dowry Prohibition Act of India has made dowry an illegal prerequisite or preconsideration for marriage, there are still thousands of cases every year.
But are these cultures flying the flag as the worst places for sexual harassment abroad?
These numbers, of course, cannot accurately account for the thousands of women who remain silent. To state that one country is more sexually-charged, aggressive or offensive, is particularly damning.(for those who are interested, some of the countries where “honor killings,” “dowry death,” or “crime passions” take place include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Latin America, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and Yemen)
Statistics aside, we thought we’d ask some of you out there what you thought. Here’s what you had to say:
“From my experience, Northern Africa and the Middle East have been the worst places I’ve experienced sexual harassment abroad. In Alexandria, Egypt, it was impossible to even walk down the street without several dudes whistling at the girls we were with (I guess jeans and a sweatshirt are considered pretty slutty over there.) One time a guy even reached out and grabbed my girlfriend’s ass as we were walking down the street.”
“Egypt is the worst I’ve seen, and I’ve been to about fifty countries. Rural Turkey is also bad, and some of the less-visited parts of the Balkans.
In Cairo, some guys made comments about my wife, so I went over and told them in Arabic that they were speaking to my wife without my permission and that Allah sees everything that they’re doing (my wife’s Palestinian and I can read, write and speak Arabic). That embarrassed them. It also helps that I’m a scary-looking white guy who looks like ex-military or an old biker. But don’t try this unless you’re OK with the possibility of starting a ruckus.”
“Not sure about other places, but as a 22-year-old woman traveling alone through Ghana and Togo (W Africa), it was terrible for sexual harassment abroad in both the urban and rural areas.
In the urban markets men would grab me hard on the arms and drag me into their stalls and would get extremely offended if I pulled away. I would get, on average, 4 marriage proposals/day (~70% kidding, 30% serious in which they would start yelling to the crowd about not accepting in an angry way) along with cat-calling, and while going over the border to Togo, the (Togo) border guard began dry humping me and the Ghanaian guard had to come over to the Togo side and escort me to the taxi station to get the guard off me.
I was also very nearly sexually assaulted when going to document an outcast witch colony at Gamabaga and was too afraid to report it since I knew they would kill the guy if I said anything. Extremely hard decision.
No joke. So if you’re a girl and can avoid it, try not to travel alone there.”
“India was the worst place in my experience. I literally had a guy grab me in the crotch once – and this was a clean-cut, professional-looking guy in the middle of a nice area of Delhi. Beyond that, I was constantly stared at, remarked upon, etc. I made a huge effort to dress conservatively (long-ish skirt, covered shoulders) but I still got unwanted attention everywhere I went.”
“Pretty much anywhere out of North America and Western Europe is bad for sexual harassment abroad.
Eastern Europe (Ex Soviet Bloc) and East Asia (India, China, Japan, Korea) is probably not too bad as long as you stay in the “tourist” areas and apply some common sense (no unlicensed Taxis, don’t be alone at night, etc)
Africa or the Middle East is probably not a good idea on your own, but with a couple of male friends you should be fine as long as you know the local laws and again stay in the tourist areas. Make sure you know that in a lot of countries if you get raped you are the one who goes to prison.
South America can be a bit sketchy, but isn’t anywhere as bad as Africa or the Middle East, you should be ok here too if you don’t go wandering into slums and away from your tour group.
And of course Australia and New Zealand are perfectly safe, other than all the animals that will kill you.”
What about you? Have you ever been sexually harassed abroad? Do you have any suggestions for areas to avoid? Or perhaps you’ve thought of an ideal common ground that can unite the world in classifying sexual harassment? Join TravelSexLife in the discussion below.