A Sexual Predator Changed the Way I Travel

10:30 PM

Trigger Warning: This is a story about surviving sexual assault while traveling. I believe that it is important to share what has happened to me so we can all be stronger and safer travelers. It has taken me a year to share my story here. With the media finally paying attention to the day-to-day harassment women face around the globe it feels like a necessary time to add my voice to this conversation. My story is not meant to be fear-mongering and I think it is absolutely safe for women to travel alone, I did so for two years and was mostly out of harms way. Please read thoroughly and be considerate when commenting. This has been very difficult to reflect upon. All of the #metoo dialect has been incredibly triggering, especially so close to the anniversary of this particular attack.

A year ago I was shattered, a complete ghost of the confident independent woman I had grown to be. I had just spent an amazing few weeks exploring one of my favorite countries, Morocco. It was my third visit to the fascinating nation and I was deeply enamored with the culture, customs, and locals. I felt welcomed everywhere I went. Yes, there were inappropriate stares, comments, and sometimes very quick touches that I wished hadn't happened. But nothing out of the ordinary of the usual sexual harassment I receive as a female traveler everywhere I go. 

I was in Ourrzazate exploring the Kasbah when I was attacked by a sexual predator. A Kasbah is essentially a labyrinth of narrow hallways, staircases, and tiny rooms. It was once a communal home for the local villagers. When I entered the typical local male 'guides' at site offered to give me a tour for a 'very reasonable price', I denied as usually they don't have any accurate information to share and I would rather explore alone. I deeply regretted this decision later.

I was in a room which was once the ladies chamber admiring the colorful wood carvings when I noticed a man in the room. I only saw he was there because I was taking a selfie and he was in view of the picture. He approached me and asked me to take his photo, first in French, then in broken English. Of course, I happily said I would take pictures for him. I snapped several photos. 

Then he grabbed me to take a selfie. I tried to object but his hand was all the way around my waist and right under my breast. In that moment I actually thought he was trying to rob me so I held my purse tight and smiled for a picture. My instinct in this moment was essentially to give him what he wanted so that he would go away. I thought it was my best option to play along and then escape. 

He wouldn't let me go and pulled me closer and nuzzled my neck as he continued to snap photos and reach his hand under my shirt. I shoved him off of me as he was showing me the blurry picture saying they weren't good and we needed to take more pictures. I started shouting, "Do not fucking touch me again!"

I ran into the next room which was a dead end. He came in with his penis and testicles exposed and was masturbating. He pushed me back against the wall as he continued to touch himself. Even though he had been aggressive towards me before I could have never imagined this was going to happen. I froze and was in complete shock for what felt like an eternity. I started to kick him and he ejaculated everywhere, on my jeans and the floor. He scampered away and I just stood there. 

It took me a few seconds to process what had just happened. I started screaming. I couldn't move. I didn't know where he had gone. The only exit of the room led to two stairwells. Which one did he take? I didn't know if he was waiting for me. What if I took the wrong set of stairs? What if he was angry that I had kicked him and now he really wanted to physically hurt me?

A few moments later two young men ran into the room and I immediately lost control of myself and started shaking and hysterically crying. They did not speak English. They were coming closer to me. I was screaming, “NO! Get away from me!” In my terrified state I assumed that they were friends with the pervert who had just assaulted me. I thought they were there for their turn, but they were just trying to help. I was being awful to them when they were only trying to find out what was wrong. 

The local men who are guides for the Kasbah, the ones that I had refused to hire before all ran up to see what all the fuss was about. One of them spoke enough English to get me to sit down and breathe. At this point I was surrounded by around a dozen men and was certain that this is just the beginning of a gang rape. I didn't know how to get out of the building and was completely terrified. 

I finally calmed down enough to explain to one of the men who spoke some English what had just happened. When he told the rest of the men they were immediately furious. I knew then that these men were here to help me, not hurt me. They wanted to call the police. They wanted me to go outside and get some air. I told them I was afraid to move and I didn’t know where my attacker was. They said they already had looked for him and that he was gone and walked me slowly downstairs.

At this point I remembered that I had taken a seflie earlier and that the guy had been in the background. I had a picture of the perpetrator. I let the locals call the police. I wasn’t hopeful that anything would come of it, but the police were furious. They sent the photo around to other officers and sped off as quickly as they had arrived. 

The local men brought me water and tissue. I didn’t really understand where the police had gone and the guides just told me they were going to go find my attacker. I thought that would be impossible. At least 15 minutes had passed and while the city isn’t large it certainly isn’t tiny. They asked me to stay and wait for the police to return. I tried to sit there for a few minutes but couldn’t shake off what had just happened to me. I couldn’t regain my strength and I just kept crying, something so unusual for me.

I needed a distraction, so the guide 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 hysterically ran towards us shouting. My guide, Moha, translated for me–"the cops had caught the asshole," he said. We went to the front of the Kasbah and sure enough the police van was back. I couldn’t believe that they had really found him. The picture was zoomed in and blurry and you could hardly see his facial features. But they opened the van and sure enough there he was on his knees, crying and begging for my forgiveness. To everyone’s shock, including my own, I screamed, “FUCK YOU.”

We went to the police station where it took about four hours of translating and retelling the story over and over again. The picture was all the proof I needed. The Moroccan police never asked me why I was alone, never question what I was wearing, or suggested that I should cover my head and hair. They didn’t doubt what had happened to me. If you're grossly curious about what I was wearing the photo above was captured the same day. I realize I may have be given special treatment because I am a foreigner. 

The sexual predator that attacked 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 have no way of knowing what the ruling was but I had been told that there is an official sex offender list in Morocco and he will be on it for the rest of his life regardless of how much jail time he is given. This was the first time in my life I've swiftly received justice when reporting sexual harassment. I have no doubt that this was not this monsters first assault. His attack was so calculated. He knew the Kasbah well, knew where to corner me, and how to escape. He took me as prey because I was alone, and kind enough to take his photo. He perceived me as vulnerable.

It is important to reiterate that all of the Moroccan men who helped were exceptionally kind to me. Especially the police, who simply believed me. With the other attacks I have survived in the States and Spain they’ve just been laughed off by both friends and authorities. This did not happen only because I was in a Muslim-majority country. What this man did is very much so against his religion. He is a bad man before he is anything else that is defined by his citizenship, color, or creed. Men like him exist all over our planet. They are predators with no respect or regard for women.

For instance, 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 every woman I know has been sexually harassed in some way. Others are oblivious and find cat calling, unwanted touches, and hungry stares to be flattering.  

In Morocco I was physically OK, but mentally I was broken. The attack had me seriously reconsidering the solo travel lifestyle I created for myself. My confidence was completely shattered. I felt so violated. I was traumatized and incredibly vulnerable. I tried to feel lucky that I wasn’t hurt. 

The night of the attack I took a bus to a coastal town for a 3 day surf camp. I stayed for two weeks as I regained my confidence. I walked around with downward cast eyes. I retracted from every man that approached me. I fought hard to recover a sound mental state. Eventually I went on to Moroccan cities alone, something I truly didn't think I'd be able to do again. I lost my ability to navigate the medinas and deal with unwanted attention from Moroccan men.

When a man followed me down an alley way a few weeks later in Rabat and put his phone in my face for a selfie I threw it to the ground and ran away. When another man in Rabat sat down next to me at a historical site I told him I was going to start to scream. I have zero tolerance with men and selfies now. Even men I have gotten to know as, they just don't need to have pictures with me, or even be close enough to me to snap a picture.

I prevailed. I regained my power. I refused to continue to feel defeated. I hadn't come this far to only go this far. I stopped questioning my lifestyle or why I "put myself" in dangerous situations like this. I left for India a few months later with a bolder stance on what it meant to be a solo traveler. I no longer went into sites alone Now I always hire a guide, they may not be super articulate about the historical facts but they'll keep me safe as they want to get paid at the end of the tour. 

Once I didn't see any guides at the Amer Fort in Jaipur, India. The old living quarters were eerily similar to the Kasbah in Morocco where I had been attacked. I was lost and couldn't find an exit and was starting to cry and was having trouble breathing. I was in a complete panic for the first time since I had been attacked. Everything came back to me vividly and I hated myself for being alone in a similar place. I asked two guards to show me the way out, instead they took me down some stairs, I turned and ran away. I found a quiet corner to sit down and breathe. A man approached me in a yellow shirt. I looked away and stood up and walked the other direction. When I lifted my head he was standing in front of me and pulled me in for a kiss. I hit his windpipe hard and ran. Another guard stopped me and asked if I was okay, briefly I told him that a man in yellow had tried to kiss me, but didn't mention that his associates also tried to trick me. 

In Nepal and Sri Lanka I've had similar scary experiences. I felt stronger in these instances though because I was carrying a taser gun that my sweet friend Daniella had brought to me. I have never had to use it, and I hope I never will have to. But I will. I will shock any man who puts his hands on me. I will not be victimized again.

The last three months I have been traveling with my boyfriend Julio and as expected I have faced hardly any sexual harassment. A few sexist remarks,  lingering stares, and touches that quite frankly don't seem to matter as much in the scheme of things, but they do. Julio is still learning that any unwanted attention is sexual harassment and that I absolutely won't accept it, and need him to speak up when he sees it happening. Once I had to explain to him why it had upset me that a man had walked past me and brushed his hand against my crotch. He credits me for turning him into a feminist but truly he just didn't realize these things were happening to women he knows and loves before we met.  Most men have never been objectified or harassed like this. But all women have, whether they want to admit it or not.

When I tell these stories to male friends, family members, or lovers they find them hard to believe. Maybe because they themselves would never treat a woman in such a nasty way. Globally there is a stigma that surrounds sexual harassment as something acceptable. But it absolutely its not.

I am an activist for women's empowerment and naively had thought that my days of being assaulted were behind me. I don’t know if they ever will be. This particular assault in Morocco felt ironic as I had been working with women's empowerment groups in the country. This year I spent three months in India working with a women's empowerment NGO. I have been trying to reroute my story and use my pain as fuel to be a part of a global movement for women's rights.

The attack in Morocco brought up a lot of anxiety from being raped as a 15-year old virgin. I didn't speak my truth about being a rape survivor for nearly a decade. I never properly dealt with it. But somehow the attack in Morocco has made just as big as an impact on my life. Perhaps because it happened while I was doing something I love, traveling. Perhaps because I was in a foreign place and didn’t know where to go or who to trust. 

I used to be defensive when people go on about the dangers of being a woman traveling alone. The reality is it is dangerous to be a woman anywhere, alone or not. Sexual harassment makes most other things that I've thought were difficult in life seem trivial. I am so tired of being dehumanized by men who view women as second-class items. It is hard work not to lose my confidence and to remember each time that I did not bring this upon myself. I did not ask for this unwanted sexual attention. Going 'home' to the USA, wouldn't mean that I would stop facing sexual harassment. In the current political climate in the States it seems almost celebrated by the President who is an alleged sex offender.

I overcome sexual abuse by sharing my experience with other travelers, men so they can learn how difficult it can be for women and start to speak up, and women so we feel less alone in the vicious violations so may of us have been through. What got me through Morocco was talking to complete strangers online that I met through the Girls Love Travel, Travelettes, and Go Wonder Facebook groups. I felt safer talking to these women who loved travel than I did my own friends and family who wouldn't understand.

I am incredibly saddened by the other stories of sexual harassment that have surfaced through the #metoo movement. It is a very heavy burden we have to bare as women to be the keeper of our stories, and others. When I shared my story in those Facebook groups this time last year dozens of strangers shared with me the sexual harassment they've overcome with while traveling. 

While it makes me feel less alone and question less why this keeps happening to me, it makes me not feel very hopeful for the future of our gender. Now that sexual harassment is being publicly discussed by Hollywood and mainstream media perhaps we'll see a change, but probably not. It will be old news by November. The Las Vegas shooting was barely three weeks ago and no media networks are covering it any more, Puerto Rico is still suffering on a massive scale and the media have moved on to other topics. The media has a huge responsibility right now to start a paradigm shift in the States and around the world to educate the masses about sexual harassment and put pressure on politicians to pass laws that make it illegal to cat call, for starters.

I don't know if a day will ever come where I will stop wondering if my whole life will be plagued by events of men sexually harassing and abusing me. Thank you for listening to my story. If you have one you'd like to share I am always available to talk. I am sending love to each and every one of you who relates to these stories. We're in this together.

36 comments:

  1. So proud of you again for sharing! You are an incredibly strong woman that will help others with your story!

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    1. Thank you Rachel! You are also a strong woman who inspires me with your true grit and determination to raise awareness for brain cancer. I am honored to know you!

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  2. Oh my goodness. You have been through so much. Thank you for being strong. Thank you so much for not letting it defeat you!!!!!!!!!! Go girl!

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  3. thank you for sharing your story! I am a solo traveller myself and can't imagine what you went through. you are such a strong woman and courageous!

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    1. I hope you never face a similar situation. Thank you for your support!

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  4. This kind of experiences really shapes you, no matter how many times it happens or how big the assault is. I had a difficult time with this in Turkey. I was in a resort, sunbathing, when I was approached by one of the hotel's staff just because I was sitting alone (my family went into the town). I tried to avoid him by going near the deck water, but I was thrown into the water by him. While coming back to my place, I put on a towel as I was wearing just a swimsuit and he tried to give me a massage. I was so scared (I was just 15 years old) that I started crying. Finally, I tried to shove him away, but before leaving he insulted me. After that I kept questioning if I ever should travel alone. Unfortunately, there is no place where sexual assault can't happen. It's a horrible experience.
    Your story is heart warming and shows that despite being fearful, we must keep fighting. Hope you stay safe when travelling again.

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    1. I really needed to hear this. It is true that every time is different in the way in impacts you. I am so so sorry to hear your story. What a vulture for praying on a young woman. I was 13 or 14 in Florida and was assaulted on a beach. My mom had booked me a massage and let me go down to the table on the beach on my own as it seemed so safe and I wanted the independence. Within a few seconds the man stuck his hand under my swimsuit bottoms and his fingers started touching me. I had never been touched before. I knew it was wrong. I got up and screamed at him asking how old he thought I was. He said, you're 18, right? As if being of age would have made assaulting me less of a crime. I didn't tell anyone, I was too young to be brave enough to do so. I wish I had.

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  5. That is shocking just reading it. I can't imagine how shattering must have been for you. It is one of the things I am most afraid and probably the reason I haven't ventured on my own. You have shown an immense strength and courage. Stay strong, stat safe!

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    1. I hate that the risk of sexual harassment or assault can keep us from venturing on our own. While I sometimes think physical touch is an isolated event and usually things do not progress from verbal harassment I understand why you are scared. I am scared too. I am tense when I am alone but being extra alert helps to keep me safe. I hope when you do venture out on your own you don't have any trouble. <3

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  6. As well as feeling both sad and furious on your behalf, and full of despair that you have had to experience not just the Kasbah attack but others in many other places, I feel a very positive and hopeful reaction to the way the men and police who came to your aid in the aftermath behaved, that they believed you immediately, supported and helped you, took seriously your experience and sought justice for you... as you say, this is not a universal, sadly and it's bad enough we have to suffer these attacks, and made a hundred time worse by those who shrug it off, refuse to take it seriously and fail to help us personally or in terms of justice.

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    1. Thank you for noticing that, Kavey. It was so important for me to give them credit, I was amazed by how the situation was handled. I have never gone to the police in the U.S. when I was assaulted and when I did in Spain I was laughed at.

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  7. Thank you for sharing.

    I agree with you - strange men do no deserve your (or my) patience or attention. One of my mantra's is "A man's feelings are not worth my safety".

    #MeToo

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    1. That's absolutely right and I had to learn it the hard way but will never forget that lesson and hope others can learn it by reading this story.

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  8. It's terrifying to acknowledge that the other unwanted touches and comments were just brushed off as "just part of being a woman". I'm so sorry to hear you had to experience that but you are truly very brave for sharing that! That is great though that the police and the other men afterward were helpful in finding the predator! My husband actually got me mace because it's just unfortunately unsafe to blindly trust people.

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    1. You're right - those moments are also damaging instances of harassment but they are so commonplace. I am glad your husband understands the difficulty and supports you.

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  9. That is so horrible. I have had a lot of close shaves but not assaults like that. I travelled solo around India too and was totally unaware of these issues. I always had guides at every stop. So not sure if that helped.

    Today, I am much more aware and much less tolerant too. Unfortunately, when we travel to places we just have to accept that we have to be more vigilant. Hope you don't have any more incidents like that.

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    1. I am happy that you have not had to live through an assault but close calls are also damaging and unacceptable! I am glad that your guide in India kept you safe from unwanted advances. Thank you for your support.

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  10. Wow. Your story is powerful and sharing it took courage. But it may help so many people facing similar histories - so thank you!

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    1. I hope it will do exactly that, Cat. Thank you!

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  11. Thank you so much for your story, and being brave enough to share it. I felt out of place participating in the "me too" movement, as most of the things that have happened to me have been relatively minor (and certainly so in comparison to stories and experiences of friends). However, assault is assault, so I'm not sure why I've felt like my negative experiences weren't worthy enough to get mad about, because they are! It can happen to anyone, at home or abroad. My most recent experience was in Egypt and I was groped by a man trying to take a selfie with me... And my husband was five feet away from me! I agree now with your policy of basically no more "being nice" when it comes to a photo with a random guy.

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    1. Thank you for reading and for your support Michelle. I am so sorry to hear about your experience in Egypt, I hope it won't taint your experience there although I know how difficult that can be.

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  12. It is an awful story .. but it made you stronger & smarter, and that is all it counts. I am glad to read how the other men tried to help you on the spot, we need to regain trust that there are good men out there, regarding the feeling sometimes.

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    1. Thank you Godi–you're right somehow this experience has made me stronger than I knew I could be.

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  13. It's such a horrible incident. Words fail me as I type this comment. All that I can say is that you are strong and brave to share it and I would like to share this on my FB timeline with your permission..Take care

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    1. Those words are just what I need to hear. Thank you, Lakshmi. Of course you can post on your FB timeline. If you want you can even tag my page on Facebook, or share the original post from there. www.facbeook.com/missfilatelista

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  14. Thank you for being brave enough to share this. I don't usually feel very connected to stories I read only, but this has brought me very close to crying. I am so deeply sorry for what you went through. It is so important that you found the courage to make these things public, when I started telling male friends about the kind of things that happen to me and other females on a day-to-day basis they were almost always incredulous, they didn't even mean bad, they just really didn't know. Apparently we have to tell them, so the 'good ones' become more aware of the problem and can become our allies in fighting against sexual harrassment. I haven't experienced anything half as bad as you, but I've been through the 'normal' kind of stuff - being touched by strangers in public places, being groped without consent in a disco, having to run away towards my hostel room because a guy wouldn't stop trying to kiss me and pull me closer, throwing a guy out of my house because he wouldn't understand that I did not want to sleep with him, etc. etc. And then getting asked 'well, why did you take him home if you didn't want to sleep with him' (to clarify, we had made out in the disco, then got food after, it was raining and I lived very close by - so to me it seemed logical to go eat the food in my living room). I don't want to stop being independent and travelling alone because of things like this, but your post definitely makes me rethink the security precautions I take when doing the things I love. Sending you so much positive energy <3

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    1. Thank you for your touching words and although I didn't want to make anyone emotional by telling my story I am glad that is resonates with others. You're right, men don't know so they don't get it and don't know how to react or how to change. This isn't a competition or olympics and what you've gone through is equally heavy and awful as what I've experienced or anyone else. Don't deny yourself the space to recover and be angry and sad about whatever you've had to experience. What you describe here is terrible and I am so sorry that you've had to go through it. You don't have to clarify the situation. You can be naked in bed with a man, have already begun in relations, and then decide that NO you do not want to have sex. You can change your consent at any moment. <3

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  15. I think you're incredibly brave Lola, for sharing this story, for carrying on travelling (solo), for travelling that night after the incident in Morocco, and for staying at that surf camp. I really admire your courage and send you so much love, it's disgusting what people are capable of. I try to remind myself that 95% of people in this world are good, but I know how scary a place it is to be in where we keep our eyes cast down and cannot trust anyone for a few days. xxxxxxx Ellie

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    1. Thank you so much for always supporting me, Ellie! I am so happy we've connected over shared mentalities about mindful travel and hope we can meet some day.

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  16. Thank you so much for your bravery in sharing this. It has been incredibly empowering to hear all the stories coming from #metoo - thank you for adding your voice to the chorus. And this: "The reality is it is dangerous to be a woman anywhere, alone or not." It's not about one country versus another, or women traveling solo - it's about a global culture that makes this disgusting behavior acceptable. I'm so glad you regained your power, kept traveling, and shared your story with us.

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    1. Thank you for hearing my truth, Emily. It is about the global culture, I hope our granddaughters will look at us in shock when we tell them "how it used to be" because I have to keep believing everything will change by then.

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  17. This is such a powerful message of both overcoming such difficult physical and emotional situations turned to women's empowerment and of the goodness of everyday strangers to want to help and protect others. I can't even imagine how difficult this was to share in such a public way, but I'm so glad that you did and that you're continuing to stand up for others by sharing your story for women's empowerment. And I'm so reassured by the amount of men who were outraged by what happened to you and immediately tried to find the predator. I completely agree that the geographic location hardly matters, because we deal with these issues everywhere. My husband also tells me that I turned him into a feminist, but you're right that so many men were simply unaware of what women deal with. Honestly, I think we are unaware sometimes too as it has become such a natural part of day-to-day life unfortunately. From the cat calls to more egregious incidents. Stay strong!

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    1. Kate thank you so much for your encouraging message. To turn our pain into fuel can be challenging but I believe it is the only way to heal and prosper. It was difficult to share but I feel a whole new sense of justice knowing thousands of people have read this story now, even though we don't know the name of the pervert and I didn't share his image, I hope he can feel how disgusted everyone is by his actions.

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  18. I have traveled solo a few times as a woman in spite of legions of fear mongering people who told me that it was unwise for me to do so. There has been a lot of close calls and encounters I don't want to remember as part of my trips. They happened and are a sour taste in my mouth. But evil people are everywhere (I live in this sweet suburb and I got followed getting coffee this morning even when I glared at the man and made it obvious I could see him? My god, nothing like feeling unsafe when you are going to a cafe attached to a nursing home). However, I am a big believer in staying strong and confident as a woman. When it feels like a small group of men make the world unsafe and everyone else justifies their behavior by telling you not to explore it because of them, you still own the world. Rape culture does not own your life, you have a right to wander freely, widely and alone. I used to get looked down upon for taking the train home from work- but you know what, despite that particular line's reputation for dodgy people, I did not want to give up my right to use it and give in to the power and fear evil people exert onto women. If anyone shouldn't have the right to be in the public sphere, it is creepy, predatory, violent people- not women who want to take the train, get a coffee in the morning or travel the world. You're existence as a woman is not a pre-determined weakness that you have to cater through how you live your life. Your piece really resonated with my experiences and also my attitude. You may get shaken up and bruised and hurt but you are a still strong and confident- keep rocking the world xxx

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  19. There are so many experiences that are uniquely female and unfortunately harassment and assault at this constant level if one of them. Speaking out is a step in the right direction. Peace and love to you as you move forward. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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