Wendy’s World: Sexual Harassment Abroad

For the past few months, I have been living and studying abroad in Jordan, and it has been an amazing experience thus far.  I love the culture, the people, and the food, but of course, no place is perfect.  One of the biggest obstacles that I have faced during my time here is dealing with sexual harassment and assault.  Sexual harassment and assault is something found not just in the Middle East but in all nations.  However, I have learned that it manifests itself differently depending on the context and understanding the culture or societal expectations can help decrease this amount.  Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when travelling abroad:

– Research as much as you can about the culture before arriving.  The smallest act in one country could have huge implications in another nation.  For instance, a simple handshake when you meet somebody new or greet a friend who happens to be of the opposite gender is very normal in America, but in Jordan, this act signals that you are romantically interested in the other person.  In some circumstances, if a woman accepts a handshake from a man, she may even be associated with the idea of having looser values or morals.

– I can’t say this for all of America, but for the parts that I am familiar with, most people are very friendly.  If a person talks to me, it’s rude if I don’t answer them back, regardless of their demographics.  However, when a man tries to talk to me in Jordan, especially an older man, I have learned to just ignore him and walk away or to blatantly gather my belongings and move to another area.  When I first began doing this, I felt quite bad, but I came to realize that there is no reason why an older man should be talking to me—a clearly young and foreign woman.  If he needs help, he has other resources such as his phone or the other people around us.  Furthermore, he probably knows that his actions are inappropriate.  I don’t want to generalize and say that all settings call for this type of action, but if there is a situation in which a man seems strangely very interested in you, just walk away and don’t feel bad.  Trust your instincts and remember that your safety is more important.   

– When you are in a different and new culture, consider dressing more conservatively than normal until you are better acquainted with the social expectations.  In some areas, foreigners will be given more leeway if they do not follow all of the expected social practices and in other areas, they will be subjected to even greater harassment. 

– Most importantly though, remember that whatever you are doing, you do not deserve any form of sexual harassment or assault.  You are not signaling anything that asks, calls, or justifies it.  Sexual harassment and assault is inappropriate and just wrong.  Although the tips above may help decrease the amount of harassment you may receive, they are not a cure and they may not even help at all in some instances.  I have witnessed women completely veiled and still receiving crude remarks from men on the street.  Thus, remember that all forms of sexual harassment and assault are unjustified.  You are never the reason.  You are not the person at fault.  You are not the one to blame, and especially, do not blame or guilt yourself.

If you have any other tips to add, please do so!

–Wendy Tran

Lead Her Intern, Campus Calm®

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