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Preventing sexual assault

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Sexual assault is one of society's worst kept secrets. One in four people will become a victim of sexual assault some time in their lives. Sexual assault occurs in all parts of the world. Sexual assault victims and perpetrators alike can be male or female, and of any age, race, religion, nationalitiy, or ethnic group. Due to difficulty in proving sex crimes, many perpetrators live their lives often committing multiple and sometimed attacks without getting prosecuted due to the ease in getting away, all while appearing as law-abiding citizens.

Perpetrators of sexual assault often choose their victims for just one reason: their vulnerability. For the perpetrator, the crime is not about meeting their sexual needs. It is about their sick desire to control other people and to inflict pain on others. Typical perpetrators do not necessarily fit the stereotypes of rapists and do not look like "monsters"; they often look very ordinary, are well dressed and groomed, hold steady jobs, are married and raising families, and in every way blend in with the upstanding members of the population. All too often, they seem like kind, trustworthy people. And it is not uncommon for a sexual assault to begin under the guise of helping the victim.

It is pretty easier for a traveler to become a victim of a sexual assault due to the vulnerability factor. Travelers are frequently unfamiliar with the area where they are visiting and are very likely to accept help from strangers. A seemingly helpful stranger may be motivated solely by the opportunity for their next victim. 

Additionally, visitors to a place may be perfect victims because they are often unfamiliar with law enforcement in the area, sometimes less trusting of that law enforcement, and therefore less likely to seek help. And since a victim is often needed to testify in court, and there is a good chance a traveler is unlikely to be able to return to the area for a court appearance, prosecution becomes more difficult. Yet regardless, the victim has been violated.

Definition of sexual assault[edit]

Sexual assault includes but is not limited to forcible rape. Many actions constitute sexual assault. This includes forced physical contact of a sexual nature, coerced sexual contact that is not physically forced but nevertheless unwanted by the victim, indecent exposure by the perpetrator, forced or coerced indecent exposure of the victim, unauthorized filming of the victim's privates, or certain other forms of sexual behavior against the will of the victim. A perpetrator may even take advantage of a seemingly normal touch and take it a little too far and make it sexual.

Attacks can be male on female, female on male, male on male, and female on female. It is not uncommon for the victim not to know that what occurred to them was a sexual assault. Many such attacks occur through seemingly incidental contact or could include no contact at all.

Things to do[edit]

  • Know the emergency number where you are. It is different in almost every country.
  • Stick together with a trusted friend when engaging in activities for which safety is questionable.
  • Trust your instincts. If you think a stranger may be dangerous, don't take any chances with them.
  • Memorize details of a potential perpetrator's face, clothing, vehicle, etc.

Know who is a real friend[edit]

While traveling, it is very tempting to be friendly, especially if you are a friendly person. You may be one who enjoys striking up conversation and meeting others. It is not uncommon to feel that someone is a close friend of yours after meeting them just once. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But it takes much longer before you can call someone a 'trusted friend.' A person you meet may be the most honest in the world. But it takes time for you to get to know that.

In reality, a trusted friend means someone you have known for a long time, not someone who you just met in the town you are visiting or on your tour group. A trusted friend could be your spouse, a member of your family, or a friend you have known for at least several years and whose values you have gotten to know.

It is perfectly fine to view someone you meet as a great friend for the future and someone who may one day have that trusted status. But this does not come overnight. Wait until one has been put to the ultimate test of trust.

Things to avoid[edit]

Being isolated[edit]

Avoid being isolated with a person you do not know. Whether it be in a hotel room, a vehicle, or even a public but secluded area, the fact that no one else is around makes it possible for assault to occur, given that there are no witnesses and it is harder for the victim to seek help.

Even for a woman to be with a group of men unknown to her in an isolated situation, or a few vulnerable women to be with a few unknown men can pose a problem.

Drinking with strangers[edit]

Many sexual assaults occur by a perpetrator buying the victim drinks, which may seem like a friendly gesture, and when the victim is intoxicated enough, she will become more submissive and often semi-conscious, and is particularly vulnerable at this time.

Drinking is not an activity to avoid altogether. It is a popular activity for tourists in some places. But drinking should take place with care.

A large percentage of rapes that occur to women while away from home occur this way. Tourists are more apt to drinking while on vacation, and the allure of a drink paid for by someone else, paired with the opportunity to make new friends, is appealing.

Long distance relationships[edit]

Since the advent of the internet, numerous people who live in different cities, countries, or even continents have met each other online, then arranged to meet each other in person. Some really great relationships have formed this way, including everything from romances, platonic friendships, business partnerships, and a lot more. Most people who meet each other first online and then later in person are perfectly safe and there is no need to fear them. But given that any odds exist of crime, often sexual in nature, occurring through such meeting, it is necessary to take precautions during a first meeting and even subsequent meetings until you get to know someone well enough.

  • Never meet a person for the first time in their residence or have them come to your residence. Do not even give them your home address too soon. Instead, meet them in a crowded and secured public place, such as a mall, cafe, tourist attraction, or some other place where plenty of people can be found and that has no direct ties to you.
  • Never invite someone into your hotel room either or enter another's hotel room. The lobby of a hotel could be a safe place if it is a big enough hotel that there are always plenty of people around.
  • Do not get into the person's vehicle or invite them into yours. If you get into the vehicle of another person you've never met, they suddenly have full control, and if they turn out to be dangerous, escape can be difficult if not impossible.
  • In either of the above situations, be wary if they say they have another person with them. The person you are planning to meet may make it sound like they are bringing someone along for your protection. But this may be a ploy, and the 'other person,' if existent, may be a part of their plan to attack.
  • Be aware of the possibility of a fake profile. It is very easy to create one over the internet. It is easy to find profile pictures of someone other than oneself, and there are devices that exist that allow one to disguise one's voice, possibly as a member of the opposite sex.
  • If the person you are planning to meet says they have references, be wary. It is easy to fake references either by having friends who are in cahoots with one's plot be those 'references' or by creating online profiles of people who don't exist.
  • Do not automatically assume a person is safe just because they are well-dressed or well-groomed, and on the contrary, do not automatically assume they are dangerous because they are not. It is easy to obtain nice clothes and to neatly groom oneself, all with bad intentions. At the same time, many people are very casual and do not care much about their appearance, but nevertheless are good people. Just take good common sense precautions.
  • Do not judge people based on based on social class. Good and bad people come in all classes. Sexual deviance does not discriminate by the amount of money one has. Also be aware that it is possible to briefly fake the appearance of wealth, all with bad intentions.
  • Do not judge someone based on race, religion, or nationality. Good and bad people are found in equal proportions in all ethnicities. You may, however, have to take into consideration their attitude toward your ethnicity.
  • These measures should surely be taken during a first meeting. And there are plenty of good reasons to continue to practice them in subsequent meetings. There is no time limit before introducing new levels of trust into a relationship.
  • Do not be angry or offended if someone you meet online practices these security measures on you. It is for your good as well as theirs.

Ways to dress[edit]

Your attire can have an impact on your vulnerability. No, not the attractiveness of how you dress. Some attractive fashions may actually protect you. And some unattractive ways to dress can make you a target.

One thing to consider is you mobility in what you are wearing. How quickly does it enable you to move around. If you need to escape or fight back, could your garments impede this?

Another factor is how easy it is for someone else to undress you. Garments that take longer to remove provide more protection because the attacker prefers greater ease in removal. Overalls and jumpsuits provide the most protection in this regard. But they are not everyday fashion that all women typically wear. Still there are other types of clothes that are harder to remove.

For example, if you wear slacks or a skirt with a belt, choose a belt that is complicated to unfasten. Of course, you know how to. But one who is unfamiliar with this belt may not.

Closures at the back or side of a garment also provide greater protection than those at the front. To increase this protection, closures in different locations (e.g. a zipper or buttons at the back or side and a belt that buckles at the front) add to the difficulty of a garment being removed against one's will.

As a driver[edit]

When you are driving, you have quite a lot of control. To a degree, that is. But there are plenty of ways in which driving can expose you to danger. And knowing is the best way to prevent these dangers.

  • Travel on well-traveled roads at busy times. Avoid isolated roads that are little used. Even some limited access highways are little traveled at certain times, and these have few exits.
  • Before getting in you vehicle, make sure it is in good mechanical condition and the tires are not worn to reduce the chances of a breakdown.
  • Be aware of rest areas if you choose to use them. Some rest areas are unattended and very isolated, and it is not uncommon for one who stops there to be alone. Be especially wary if you find just one other vehicle there.
  • If a breakdown does occur, stay low in the vehicle out of sight of the public until help arrives. This way, a predator will not be aware you are there as a potential victim.
  • Be aware if you are involved in a minor accident. It is not uncommon for a predator to find a victim by tapping the rear of the victim's vehicle to cause the victim to stop for an accident, and once stopped, commit their act. When this happens, continue driving, getting the best possible description of the vehicle (and if possible the tag number) and call police as soon as possible (preferably with the vehicle out of sight).

Traffic stops[edit]

Unfortunately, numerous crimes occur in which a perpetrator pulls over a victim under the guise of being a police officer. Police badges, uniforms, auto decals, and even the lights and sirens found on police vehicles are quite easy to obtain. The same can be said for the models of vehicles often used by real police officers. For this reason, it is quite easy and common to pull off the impersonation of a member of law enforcement. And the motive for doing so is usually quite sinister.

If you are driving and a police officer is about to pull you over, put on your flashers to indicate you intend to stop. Then wait until you find a safe, well populated area to stop. If you have a mobile phone, call 112 (United States) and ask if there really is a police officer attempting to pull you over. And you have the right to request a second officer come to the scene. Another option you have is to drive straight to the police station if you know its location.

On public transportation[edit]

While most public transportation is safe, there are plenty of dangers lurking on bus and rail lines. Knowing in advance is your best protection. Here are some tips that can protect you when riding the bus or rails.

  • Stay in areas that are well lit and are used by lots of people. Avoid isolated bus stops and rail stations.
  • Travel during peak hours whenever possible.
  • Be aware that in many subway stations, there are dark corners and dead ends. Avoid these areas. They can be a rapist's (or mugger's) trap. Wait for the train near an exit where you can run in an emergency.
  • When boarding a train, try to get on a car where there are plenty of decent-looking people. Avoid getting on a car where you will find yourself alone with a stranger. It may not be possible to exit the car during movement.
  • At bus stops you will use, learn about retailers and other open public places with a short run of the bus stop. You can run into these places for help in emergency.
  • Where available, study the bus stop on Google Street View or some other similar service to learn the details of its appearance.
  • Plan ahead so you will be spending minimal amounts of time at each bus stop if all possible.
  • If you must travel at off-peak times when your route is likely to be isolated, try taking the same route during peak hours in broad daylight to learn about it.

When lodging[edit]

Hotels, motels, and other similar facilities are a basic part of travel for many. Such places can be a sanctuary away from home, a place for us to enjoy. But like anything else, they can vary in safety and security.

Here are some things to consider:

  • While there are advantages to facilities that have the doors to the rooms opening to the outside, those with doors opening to a corridor inside the building are safer because a potential assailant must first enter the building prior to reaching one's room. Often this means passing at least the front desk, and sometimes, entry to the guest corridor requires a room key. In some places, entry to the very floor on which one's room is located requires a room key.
  • Hotels with rooms that one enters from inside the building are not immune from attacks either. Not all such facilities are 100% secure, and it is still possible for an assailant to enter such a building unnoticed. The assailant can give the appearance of a regular guest, thereby leading staff not to question their presence. Additionally, there is a chance that assailants can be guests who are already staying at the facility.
  • Regardless of where the entrance to the room is located, ground level rooms pose greater risk of invasion. It is possible to break into a room by smashing a window.
  • Park near the entrance to the building if possible. When getting out of your vehicle, observe your surroundings. If you see anyone suspicious, leave the parking lot and return later. If that suspicious person is still there, consider calling the hotel staff or the local police. See about getting an escort to your room.
  • Lock all locks on your door.
  • Sleep near either the room phone or your cell phone in case you need to call for help.
  • Be wary of anyone who knocks on your door! If they say they are a member of hotel staff, call the front desk to verify that a member of hotel staff is supposed to be at your door. If this is not possible, call the local police.
  • Figure out how to lock your bathroom door. In emergency, you can lock yourself in the bathroom, which can buy time for police to arrive. And remember to take your cell phone with you into the bathroom.
  • If you use the bathroom as a temporary place to hide, you can take a chair from the room to barricade the door. Place the chair in a laying down position with its legs against the door and the back against the bathtub. If the length measures out just right, this will make opening the bathroom door without force more difficult.

Levels of security vary in each lodging facility. Currently, there is no security rating system for lodging facilities. Therefore, if you are concerned, it may be worth calling the facility in advance and asking about the details of their security.

To get a room that optimally meets your security needs, make note of your wishes when booking. The farther in advance you make your reservation, the more likely your wishes are likely to be met.

After your stay, it is strongly recommended that you write a review of where you stay, and whether your view was positive or negative, write about the security of the location to aid future travelers.

On cruise ships[edit]

Generally, cruise ships are very safe. For the most part, there is nothing to fear. But sexual assault has occurred on cruise ships before and is likely to occur many more times in the future. It is still rare enough that these can be considered isolated incidents. Nevertheless, these cases are grounds to be concerned for your safety.

Cruise ships can be a very nice place to meet people, including those of the opposite sex who could one day be partners, or even if you are not looking for a romance, they could still be friends. Most people who go on cruises are decent people who are harmless. But there is no way to know just by looking at someone because good and bad people can externally look alike.

While on a cruise ship, it is necessary to take the following precautions:

  • Do not enter a stranger's room, especially alone.
  • Do not allow a stranger to enter your room, especially without others around.
  • Avoid isolated common areas of the ship. Though these areas may be public, they may not be frequented by many, and they may be the perfect area for an attack.
  • If you want to spend time on a ship with someone you have met and want to get to know better, arrange to meet in an area of the ship where plenty of other people can be found. Some possible locations are the pool, the cafeteria, near the front desk, or an open corridor where people are walking by all the time. Avoid dead ends or activity rooms that are underused.
  • Use caution in giving out your room number to others. If the wrong person learns your room number, they can use it to stalk you.

See also[edit]

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