From the 15th of January to the 1st of February I am travelling Europe solo; something that I have never done before. While I was expecting some concern, I never expected the barrage of criticism and advice that I have received over the last few months.
I’m not naive enough to think that no woman has ever been assaulted overseas when travelling solo – I understand the concern, though I don’t seem to think that solo travelling is the death trap that my friends and family would have me believe.
But what really bothers me is the advice – “Don’t drink because someone might take advantage of you.” “Don’t trust anyone.” “Be careful where you go” “Look like you know where you’re going and don’t carry a map.” – and so on. It’s all good advice BUT it just brought up for me how everyone seems to think that a woman’s safety is completely in her own hands. And if something happens…well then, she must have done something wrong. She must have taken too many risks. Walked in the wrong places. Talked to the wrong people. Dressed the wrong way.
I’m not about to go overseas and refuse to talk to anyone or go anywhere. I could sit at home and do that. And if I happen to be unlucky enough to talk to or trust the wrong people, it’s not my fault. Though I know everyone, including myself, will think that I am partly to blame.
I had my drink spiked a few years ago. And yes, I left it unattended. I was sitting by myself at our university bar waiting for friends, when I saw someone I knew. I jumped up and said a quick thirty second hello, before returning to my table just as my friends arrived. And in that thirty second absence someone spiked my drink. Yes, I know that you should never do that. But it was a mistake. An accident. Whoever spiked my drink, on the other hand, was not doing it by accident.
And yet I was the one who was blamed. By everyone, but especially me. I was so busy being angry at myself and feeling like a complete idiot that I never thought to be angry at whoever had done it. Nothing happened that night as my friends arrived soon after, but if it had, I would have been blaming myself all the more. And I would have been blamed by others as well.
At the beginning of this year I met a women who had travelled around Europe in her early days. She told me to be careful and talked of her assault: “I was young and stupid, I trusted the wrong people. Just make sure you don’t do that.”
She was assaulted by people she trusted, and yet she was only angry at herself for trusting them.
What really gets to me is that women can often be the worst offenders at placing blame on the victim. I think it’s easier for us to do that than to admit that no matter what ‘precautions’ we take, there is always the possibility of assault. It’s easier to look at someone’s actions and say ‘I would never do that so I’m okay’ or even (when we can’t find anything that they have done “wrong”), ‘I would never wear a skirt that short so I’m okay.’
I would say that we’re a victim blaming society, but that is just not the case. People who fall into potholes while texting on their mobiles, spilling hot coffee on themselves or taking the batteries out of an air conditioner and throwing them in a fire (not making this up) are given pay-outs and sympathy.
Unless they’re women and they are assaulted, in which case they must have done something wrong.
I’m tired of safety messages targeted at women. Why not an ad that says ‘don’t spike drinks’ or ‘don’t assault women’? When I go out, why am I told, ‘don’t drink too much and stay in a group’, but when boys go out they aren’t told, ‘don’t drink too much and don’t assault women. Remember, you need consent!’
Like I said, I am not naive – I am not going to run risks simply because I wish we lived in a society where I was allowed the same freedom as men are, but I’m not going to hide away either. And if something bad happens, no matter what, it is not my fault.
It is only ever the fault of the offender. To say that it was the fault of the victim just shows how much growing we have to do as a society.
(Image credit: 1.)