In a universally patriarchal society, it comes as no surprise that women are often targets for sexual harassment at, both, macro and micro levels. However, I doubt we had an understanding of the magnitude of this menace until the #MeToo Movement took the world by storm.
We were left aghast as stories after stories of rampant sexual harassment and gender-based violence surfaced. We were also thrilled to see brave voices of survivors fearlessly come forth to unveil the identities of such sexual predators, resulting in the downfall of some of the most powerful men in the world. What #MeToo did was destigmatise victims and stigmatise the perpetrators of such heinous crimes.
I'm certain it comes as no surprise that instances of sexual harassment are not just limited to film industries and workplaces and that victims are not always only women. Keeping this in mind, this article aims at examining the prevalence of #MeToo experiences in travel.
Here are six travel bloggers sharing their personal #MeToo stories while they were on the road, hoping to bring to light the prevalence of such unsocial behaviour for creating wider social awareness:
I remember I was only 19 years old and in college, when my friend and I decided to travel to Jaipur for a quick holiday. We were the quintessential young, wide-eyed tourists, with an unwavering curiosity to explore, and a longing to learn. Everything was going great till everything started spiraling out of control.
My friend and I were standing on the sidewalk in broad daylight, looking for an auto. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a fancy car pulled over and the driver - a young 20-something rich kid - leaned over to ask us for directions. We told him we has no idea and started walking away. When we looked back, his car started reversing till it caught up with us. "Can you please just look at this address, I'm really lost," he said, pretending to hand over his phone. When we looked down, we were horrified to see him masturbating. I will never forget the sick, sleazy expression plastered on his face. We freaked out and started yelling, and he drove away. Just like that, he got away and we were left traumatised.
Raghvi (name changed)
This incident happened to me in Prague. I was in a bar, when a guy approached me, asking if I'd like company. I wasn't in the mood to socialise and wished to be left alone so I politely declined his advances and moved to a different area in the bar. I couldn't have made it clearer I was not interested. I am guessing he didn't understand what a firm "no" meant and took it upon himself to chase me some more.
He followed me to the other end of the bar and asked me out again. This time I firmly told him I was not interested and would appreciate if he left me alone. His massive ego couldn't handle this blatant rejection, and he got aggressive, pushing me so hard I lost my balance and fell.
Next morning, still in shock and reeling from the events of the previous night, I decided to file a police complaint. I was informed I would be required to stay in Prague for one week to file an official report. I was leaving in 3 days and it was next to impossible for me to cancel my flight for this. So I didn't. Back home I discovered I had suffered a hairline fracture from the trauma caused by the fall. The incident has stayed with me forever. So has this scar.
This happened at a restaurant in Bangalore. I was standing in the billing queue, waiting for my turn. I remember I was in a sleeveless shirt, because it was so hot. Suddenly, I felt something crawling from my shoulder all the way down to my wrist. Thinking it was an insect, I tried brushing it off. But to my shock, it was the guy behind me sliding his finger up and down my arm. The most disturbing part was, he stared shamelessly at me and smirked. Never having experienced anything similar, I had no idea what to do. He then had the audacity to put his finger on my chest, before trying to slide it down my shirt. I pushed him away and got out of there as soon as possible, without creating a scene.
I was 18 years old and psyched to discover that former Pink Floyd member, Roger Waters, was going to perform in Bombay in the summer of 2007. So two of my closest friends and I decided to go on one of our first trips ever, determined to catch him live. Needless to say, it was the greatest experience I've ever had.
As it turned out, we ended up staying a couple of more days to explore the fast-paced city. The following day I woke up early and decided to squeeze in a run while my friends were fast asleep. I grabbed my iPod and stepped out 7am - an acceptable time to go for a morning jog I'd foolishly presumed! As a runner I always make it a point to run against traffic and that's exactly what I did that day. The stretch wasn't anywhere close to being deserted and I felt pretty safe.
That's when it happened. Three guys on a bike caught up to me from behind (they were riding on the wrong side of the lane). I had no idea they were behind me because I had my earphones on. Everything happened in slow motion after that. I saw the third guy reach out to me and thinking he was going to grab my iPod, I reflexively jerked it away. He missed. He reached out again and groped me instead. When I looked back up, I could see the third guy sneering as they drove away slowly.
Although I was shaking with fear and rage, I decided I wasn't going to scamper back to the hotel. I didn't want to let them win. So I grabbed some stones just in case they returned and managed to finish my run. They never did.
I was travelling across Turkey this year, when this incident took place. I was at a place called Diyarbakır, known as one of the largest cities in southeastern Turkey and also considered the unofficial capital of Northern Kurdistan.
When I got to Diyarbakır, I sent a request to my host on couchsurfing.com and he was nice enough to accept it. I reached his place around lunchtime and was pleased to see he had gone out of his way to prepare a lavish Mediterranean spread with fresh bread, olives, exotic fruits and different types of cheeses. Once I'd finished eating, we chatted for a bit and he offered to show me around Diyarbakır in the evening. While he showed me around the city, I realised something was not right. I could sense it in his body language and the way he was looking for opportunities to touch me. Slowly I started to distance myself from him just so he wouldn't get the wrong idea.
When we got back to the apartment I asked him whether he had a girlfriend and, to my relief, he said he did. I immediately calmed down and figured I'd only imagined he was trying to make a move on me. Soon it was time to retire; he had a double bed and a sofa and I told him I was planning to crash on the latter. This was met with protests and he said the bed was big enough for the both of us and that the couch would be too uncomfortable. Although I was a bit hesitant the guy said he had a girlfriend and I agreed. I fell asleep instantly but I was awakened in the middle of the night. To my horror I realised this guy had draped his around me, and was trying to pull me closer to him. He didn't seem to care much for my consent and was trying to get cosy. I pushed him away, got off the bed and lay down on the couch. But sleep had managed to desert me and I couldn't help but think of how often women are a victim to such incidents. I tossed and turned until I fell into an uncomfortable sleep. Needless to say, when I woke up the next morning, first thing I did was grab my bag and get the hell out of there.
A popular travel blogger, Sharanya talked about being groped and cat-called while she was travelling in Sri Lanka. Here's the Instagram post detailing the shocking and disturbing experiences she had:
Although travelling is a wonderful way to learn and grow, sometimes it comes with its share of risks and dangers. It's important to be a smart traveller and take necessary steps to stay safe when you're on the road.
If you have been a victim to any form of harassment (unwanted sexual remarks/advances, 'accidental' touching, psychological or verbal abuse, etc.) while travelling solo or with friends, it's important to confide in someone close or maybe even share your story if and when you're ready. Participating in an open dialogue is necessary to destigmatise victims. One day, this will hopefully cataylse change in society.