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Avoiding Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assaults

  • Be aware of how you carry yourself and dress. Even things as seemingly insignificant as smiling and your stride will mark you as a foreigner. Avoid looking like the stereotypical American; dressing fairly conservatively will help deflect at least some of the potential harassers (e.g., avoid wearing short skirts on the street even if you see local women wearing them).
  • An effective way to avoid stares while on the street or the buses or trains 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 assaulted. Avoidance is the safest tactic.
  • If you continue to be followed, spoken to, or touched after repeated attempts to get away, try to remove yourself to a very public place. Tell your harasser firmly and calmly to leave you alone. Sometimes threatening to get the police is effective, but sometimes the police are less than supportive.

It is essential to your safety that you never allow yourself to be vulnerable to attack, that you avoid behaviors that can make you prey. You may have the right to walk down the beach at 2:00 in the morning, but if you do, you are making yourself prey to a waiting predator.

You may want to go to a bar or a party and have some fun, let off some steam, kick back and have a good time but if you drink alcohol or use any mood altering substance, you are now potential prey. It’s as if you said to the strangers/acquaintances around you, "I’m going to relinquish control of myself/my body now. I put myself in your hands." Being under the effect of substances of any kind sets us up to be vulnerable to the attack of a predator.

It’s not fair. Of course, it’s not. But it’s true—and staying in control of yourself can save your life. Being awake and aware allows you to pick up on warning signs that alert you that something is wrong. In the book The Gift of Fear Gavin deBecker describes the "gut feeling," the intuitive sense, that something is not right—that some danger may be present—as the gift of fear. Fear alerts us if we are awake and aware and respectful of the feelings we get. We must not override our sense of fear by saying to ourselves, "I don’t know what I’m worried about, I’m sure nothing’s wrong here," instead of paying attention to that little voice in our gut that says, "I don’t know what’s going on here, but something’s up." It is really, really important to pay attention to our intuition, that little sense of knowing that something is amiss here, and not to dismiss it or deny it.

Nancy Newport, RN, LPC
SAFETI on-line newsletter Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000