Trigger Warning: Assault
As non-male travelers, we live uniquely gendered experiences. No matter where we are, women’s safety is an ever-relevant topic. Thanks to technology, we are more connected to information about traveling to different parts of the world.
From deciding to go to Israel to attending protests abroad, safety matters to all of us. But how do we prevent or avoid smaller, more targeted crimes, like assault or petty thefts?
I had never been assaulted until I came to Nicaragua, the safest country in Central America.
I have traveled to several different countries and put myself in much riskier situations, so I did not expect to be assaulted at knife point in the morning as I ran up the huge hill.
I was wearing headphones, as I do on my typical morning runs, but I had no electronics with me. I wear headphones to avoid catcalls, so men will think I can’t hear their sexual and lewd comments.
My attacker pulled out a knife and felt through my pockets. He knocked me to the ground and kept searching them, hoping to walk away with an iPhone. Ten seconds later he realized I had nothing of material value on me. He walked away with nothing, and I was physically fine, but I had the emotional consequences to deal with.
As soon as I came home, I felt extremely unsafe. Instead of my post-run feeling of accomplishment, I was petrified. I didn’t know what to expect after an event like I had just experienced.
Still, I vowed not to let this experience stop me from living and exploring this beautiful country. Just as I didn’t expect to be assaulted in a country where I feel relatively safe, I didn’t expect to recover immediately.
I did realize the importance of taking steps to heal, so I learned what to do after an experience like mine.
Here are the steps I took to help me recover from the assault:
1. Report the crime.
After being assaulted, I immediately called my Peace Corps Security manager and reported the crime. The hardest part of it all was admitting what had happened. I have never said the words,
I was assaulted at knife point.
I described the attacker as much as I could, and after reporting the assault, it was easier to process what happened.
If you find yourself the victim of an assault, reporting the attack to the police is also a good option. Even if the assailant is never caught, reporting helps others become aware of safety issues.
2. Write about it.
As soon as I reported the crime, I wrote down exactly what happened, to further acknowledge it. Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. After a few days, I wrote a powerful letter to my attacker in order to quell the thoughts of what I should have or could have done.
I don’t really believe in the concept of full closure, but psychologically engaging my attacker in a final dialogue and forcing him to listen to me made me feel as if I was able to process everything that happened to me and to gain some form of closure.
3. Don’t do it alone.
As an introvert, I usually thrive on alone time, but not after an assault.
I immediately called my friends, who came right away to keep me company. I told them that I felt like I’d gone through a break-up, and they reassured me that I was feeling as if I’d broken up with my feeling of safety. They had undergone worse attacks than I had in their lives, and we talked about things that we wouldn’t have normally broached in conversation. I was so reassured because I wasn’t alone.
A few of the people who supported me did so from afar. I reached out immediately to a few people with connections to Wanderful for online articles and resources. One of those was Leanna. I felt comfortable reaching out to her because she had been assaulted and was not afraid to write about this personal issue so publicly. She inspired me to be open about healing and to let others know they are not alone.
Delia reminded me that, although I wasn’t physically harmed, this was a traumatic experience and that I am more than worthy of self-care.
4. Be okay with your recovery time.
The first day was the worst. I had an insane amount of flashbacks. My mind kept replaying every little thing that had happened and how I felt in those 10 eternal seconds of my attack. I didn’t know when the flashbacks would stop, but I decided to be okay with it. I was also okay with crying at random times because I knew it would pass. I knew I needed to give myself the time I needed to process what had happened.
5. Talk to a therapist.
After my assault, I spoke to a therapist every day for three days. She helped me to come to terms with what happened and to process it further. I don’t usually seek out therapy, but I knew I couldn’t do this alone and that I needed to have a better idea of what to expect. Calling a therapist is still awkward for me, but I know that it is worth it. I don’t enjoy appearing weak, but I know that the short-term discomfort of reaching out for help far outweighs feeling too ashamed to reach out in the first place.
My therapist let me know that my flashbacks were a normal, bodily response and that, with time, they would decrease.
If you can’t afford a therapist, there may be a therapist in your area that offers their services on a sliding-scale. There are also online therapy options and help that you can find in books.
6. Be vulnerable.
Avoid listening to social stigmas of feeling “ashamed” that this happened to you. It wasn’t easy for me to write a descriptive blog post about my experience. The hardest part was clicking “publish,” but it was worth it.
I broke the silence about assault. Friends and acquaintances reached out to me, offering words of solidarity and comfort. I reminded myself that vulnerability is not weakness. We fear being vulnerable because we fear rejection, but I have learned to push past this fear and embrace my vulnerability.
Hopefully, you will never need to heal yourself after an assault. But you may encounter a friend who could really benefit from your support. If you do need this list, know that what you experienced is not your fault. Repeat that a hundred times to yourself if you need to.
Post-Harassment Self-Care by Autostraddle
Traveling Is Healing for Me, a story by male PTSD survivor C. David Moody
Traveling with PTSD Discussion Forum
Do you have any other advice for fellow travelers about recovering from an assault? Share them in the comments.
Featured image by Unsplash user Dominik Schröder.
I was assaulted and robbed (I did have an iPhone on me) a few years ago, when studying abroad in London. I have never been that scared in my life, and it took months until I could relax when walking outside in the dark, and years until I was able to do it alone. Even though I was physically fine (just some bruising and marks on my eye), I wasn’t fine mentally. I reported it right away, as well, which I would advise anyone else to do in the same situation! Thank you for sharing this <3
Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story. I’m sorry that such an awful thing happened to you as well. You’re right about what the distinction between being physically and mentally “fine” means. On the outside, we may seem to have recovered, but the emotional aspect is a different ballpark, and people heal in different ways. For me, writing about my experience helped me feel less alone. I’m happy you reported this event to expose that it happened. Take care!
I was robbed at gunpoint on a hijacked bus in Colombia six months ago to the day. Like you, it was the first time I had been assaulted or even truly troubled while traveling.
I’m still struggling with how and where to write about it. It’s a story not many want to hear — but one I feel compelled to share. Thank you for your bravery in writing about your experience. May it help others to travel wisely and happily, while still grounded in reality.
That sounds so terrible, Anne. I encourage you to write about it if you feel compelled to do so, even if it’s in your journal. About an hour after it happened, I wrote down what happened to acknowledge what happened and also to put it in the past. If you feel compelled to share it, then I’m sure people will benefit from hearing your story. Even if I’ve helped one person feel as if they’re not alone, then that’s enough for me. I’m sure others would benefit from reading about your story as well.
I’m visiting Colombia in June and after reading about your story I now know that as a solo traveler I’ll need to be extra aware of my surroundings. Thanks for chiming in!
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