Trigger warning: This discusses surviving sexual assault while traveling .
A year ago, I was shattered — a complete ghost of the confident independent girl I had grown to be.
I had just expended an amazing few weeks investigating Morocco, which is one of my favorite countries. I felt welcomed everywhere I went. Yes, there were inappropriate stares, remarks, and sometimes very quick touches that I wished hadn’t happened, but nothing beyond the usual harassment I receive as a female traveler.
I was in Ouarzazate exploring the kasbah when I was attacked by a sex predator. A kasbah is essentially a labyrinth of narrow hallways, staircases, and tiny rooms. A human approached me and asked me to take his photo, and I obliged. Then he grabbed me to take a selfie. I tried to object, but his hand was all the way around my waist. He pulled me closer and nuzzled my neck and reached his hand under my shirt. I jostle him off of me and started hollering at him not to touch me again.
I ran into the next room — a dead end — and he followed me and was masturbating. He pushed me back against the wall as he continued to touch himself. I froze for what felt like an eternity then started to kick him. He ejaculated everywhere, on my jeans and the floor, and then ran.
It took me a few seconds to process what had just happened. Then I started screaming. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know where he had gone. I didn’t know if he was waiting for me. What if he was angry that I had kicked him and now he truly wanted to physically hurt me? Two young men ran into the room, coming closer to me as I cried, shaking hysterically. I hollered at them, assuming they were friends with my assailant. I thought they were there for their turn.
About 10 humen assembled around me, one of whom spoke enough English to get me to sit down and inhale.
I eventually calmed down enough to explain what had just happened. When he told the rest of the men, they were immediately furious. These men were here to help me , not hurt me.
They wanted to call the police, and I let them, with little hope that anything would come of it. At least 15 minutes had passed, and while the city isn’t large, it surely isn’t tiny. I guessed my attacker would be impossible to find.
But the police were furious. I dedicated them a picture of the perpetrator — he’d been in the background of a selfie I had taken before the attack — and they sent the photo around to other policemen and sped off as quickly as they had arrived.
Still shaken, I required a distraction while we waited for the police to return, so the guidebook who spoke English offered to take me on a tour of the kasbah. We had been walking around for about 20 minutes when the other men ran towards us, hollering. My guide, Moha, translated for me: “The policemen caught the asshole.”
We went to the police station, where I was surprised by the therapy that I received.
Though I did have to sit through about four hours of telling and translating my narrative, over and over, the Moroccan police treated me with dignity and respect. The scene was all the proof I needed. The police never asked me why I was alone, never questioned what I was wearing, and never suggested that I should cover my head and hair. They didn’t doubt what had happened to me. I realize I may have be given special treatment because I am a foreigner, but I was still amazed at the care and respect I received in that situation.
The man who assaulted me was arrested and put in jail. I was told he would be tried the next day in front of a judge and sentenced. I don’t know what the ruling was, but I had been told that there is an official sex offender list in Morocco and that he would be on it for the rest of his life. This was the first time in my life I’ve swiftly received justice when reporting sexual harassment .
I have been attacked in other places, but I’ve never received respect and dignity in the aftermath like I did in Morocco.
I have been followed by men who were masturbating in Los Angeles and New York City. I have been harassed around the world, assaulted in Spain, molested in Florida, and raped in Kansas. In the last few years, I have opened up about the times I’ve been sexually abused and have found that nearly every woman I know has been sexually harassed in some manner.
But in the United States and in Spain, friends and authorities alike shrugged off the things I endured. In Morocco, all of the men who helped me were exceptionally kind. The police believed me, and they induced it a priority to track down my attacker. They didn’t shrug me off or brush me aside.
Now, I overcome sexual abuse by sharing my experiences with other travelers.
After Morocco, I was physically OK but mentally broken. The attack had me seriously reconsidering the solo travelling lifestyle I created for myself. My confidence was totally shattered. I felt so violated. I was traumatized and incredibly vulnerable. I tried to feel luck that I wasn’t hurt.
What got me through the ache and helped me mend was talking to strangers online — other female travellers who understood the dread, ache, frustration, and violation that solo female travelling can necessitate. I predominated. I regained my power. I refused to continue to feel defeated. I hadn’t come this far to only run this far.
Now, I’ve begun trying to reroute my story, utilizing my ache as gasoline to be a part of a global motion for women’s rights. I speak with humen so they can learn how difficult travelling is for women and start to speak up. I speak with women so we feeling less alone in the vicious violations that so many of us have been through.
I don’t know if a day will ever come where I and women like me will be able to stop wondering if our whole lives will be plagued by the threat of men sexually harassing and abusing us. What I do know is that I will maintain speaking up, connecting with others, and working to bring about a better and safer world. I will continue to send love to each and every person who relates to my story. We’re in this together.
This piece originally appeared on Miss Filatelista and is reprinted here with permission .
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