Journalist

Women Alert to Travel’s Darker Side / NYT

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Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 12.50.54 PMBetween sun-seared shrubs and the collapsed remains of Istanbul’s Byzantine city walls, police found the body of an American tourist, Sarai Sierra, 33, in February 2013. Ms. Sierra, a New Yorker and a first-time traveler abroad, disappeared after near-constant contact with her family for two weeks. What happened to her is still a little unclear, but a Turkish man has reportedly confessed to killing her after supposedly trying to kiss her.

This is not a case of wrong place, wrong time. Ms. Sierra was not wandering off the beaten path. She was not engaged in risky behavior. She was on a trip hoping to practice photography, according to news reports. This is a terrifying case of what can — and does — happen to female travelers abroad.

We weigh our bodily integrity against our desire to see the world. For us, for women, there is a different tourist map of the globe, one in which we are told to consider the length of our skirts and the cuts of our shirts, the time of day in which we choose to move around, and the places we deem “safe.”

Since her death early last year, a number of reports of attacks on female tourists have made headlines. An Italian tourist was reportedly raped by police officers in Mexico in the same month that Ms. Sierra’s body was found. An American tourist was raped in a store in Israel last June. A Norwegian woman was raped (then jailed, for having “unlawful sex”) in Dubai; she and the man accused in her attack were eventually pardoned last summer. On Jan. 15, a Danish woman, 51, reported being raped at knife point in New Delhi. She said she had approached the seven or eight men who attacked her to ask for directions to her hotel. In March, a British woman said she was raped by a security guard in a luxury hotel in Egypt.

Whether it is on a bus in New Delhi or at a resort in Acapulco, Mexico, the risk of an assault may seem ever-present, if recent high-profile attacks in places like these are indicative of a general state of danger for female travelers. Such news reports have tripped an alarm for many of us who venture beyond familiar destinations, some seeking the sort of solo, immersive experiences that are becoming increasingly common.

We weigh our bodily integrity against our desire to see the world. For us, for women, there is a different tourist map of the globe, one in which we are told to consider the length of our skirts and the cuts of our shirts, the time of day in which we choose to move around, and the places we deem “safe.”

But what is the reality of violence against women now in the places we want to go — and should we be avoiding whole cities because of this risk, as some women are doing? What is the actual risk for women traveling abroad compared with the perception? I talked to statisticians and women’s rights advocates and visited a few countries where notorious cases have recently occurred to get a sense of what is happening.

To read the rest of this article, please click over to The New York Times.

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