Advice for women studying abroad
Women often experience issues such as unwanted sexual advances which sometimes extend to serious consequences. Sexual “harassment” is more prominent in the United States than anywhere else, but female travelers in other parts of the world are very susceptible to sexual “assault”. It is extremely important for you—as a woman—to take care of yourself and heed caution at all times. Below are some important tips you can follow.
- Know the customs. Gender roles are going to be different in any country you visit and there may be certain expectations from women in different cultures. Sometimes certain glances, smiles, and seemingly-common behavior can lead a person to think that you are more “interested” that you really are.
- Don’t accidentally put yourself out there. Club dancing in the U.S. is very different from dancing in other countries. If you are bumping and grinding in a club, people dancing with you are very likely to assume that you may want more than just a dance. Also keep in mind that dressing provocatively and flirting may seem innocent enough, but it can get “lost in translation” and send the WRONG signals to people who are not American.
- Stay in groups. Never travel alone, especially at night. Stay in well-lit areas which you are familiar with. On public transportation, sit near a driver/staff member. The absolute safest way to avoid harassment is to stay in groups—preferably made up of both men and women—who look out for one another.
- Know how to defend yourself. In many countries, such as the UK, pepper spray is considered to be an illegal weapon, so it is important that you know how to defend yourself in case you are attacked.
- Be aware. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If something does not look right, it probably is not. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, get out of the situation as soon as possible.
- Be safe when under the influence. Be cautious if you choose to use alcohol and/or drugs. Everyone knows that these can make you lose your inhibitions. Always make sure you have at least one sober friend around to keep an eye on you.
- Don’t be “easy.” American women abroad are often stereotyped as being “easy.” Again, it is important to know the customs of your host country. Behaviors deemed to be non-sexual in the States can come across as very suggestive in other cultures.
- Be smart about dating. Dating is fun, regardless of where you are, and not all men are out to attack women. However, make sure you spend time with a man in group situations first. If you go out with him alone, make sure your friends know where you are, when you will be back, and keep a cell phone on you for emergencies. If you want to date but not have sex, do not feel pressured to do so.
- Protect yourself. If you do choose to be sexually active while abroad, make sure it is with a partner you can trust. Always use a condom to protect yourself from STDs and/or unwanted pregnancy. If you are on birth control, make sure you have enough to cover the entire span of time you are abroad (plus extra in case it is lost), as it may be difficult to fill your prescription in other countries. Checks into this before you leave; don’t just assume that you can easily get birth control once you are abroad.
- Be prepared. Feminine products are available in most countries just as they are in the U.S.; however, the type of feminine products you prefer may not be readily available. Remember that most pharmacies are not open 24-hours as they are in the U.S.
In case the worst should happen…
If you should fall victim to an attack, tell the onsite staff or police immediately so that you may receive medical attention and give a statement. Embassies and other authorities will likely do little other than advise you to contact police. Remember, it is not your fault. Be sure to notify your onsite staff should you face any sort of sexual harassment so that other women in your program may be informed of possible dangerous situations. They can also assist you in seeking appropriate counseling if necessary.
In short, women are at risk for violence and many other crimes. Nevertheless, do not let this keep you from venturing out and having a good time while embracing your new culture. The main rules are common sense, awareness of your surroundings, and staying in groups. Keep in mind that it is okay to have sex if you choose to, but if you do not want to have sex, do not feel pressured to do so. A woman’s body is her own and she may do as she pleases with it. Keep things on your own terms and remain safe at all times.
There are many internet resources regarding women’s issues, safety, etc. Listed below are a few of them:
For information on self-defense moves, you are encouraged to attend a SHARP Training event on the Missouri State Campus.
For information on women’s issues and safety:
For information for sexual assault victims: