By Hannah Meyer
I recently returned from two years of travelling the world with only my now very grubby backpack as a companion.
I could talk for hours about the magic of that time, but there were also moments when that magic turned to fear.
There was the moment a great hulk of a man forced his way into my room one night in New Delhi, India.
I was lucky; the fortuitous arrival of hotel staff saved me from any injury, but the man was allowed to stay in the hotel, bashing on my door, roaring demands that I go with him “to dinner”. I was terrified.
There was the moment I found myself charging down a back road at 5:00am in Ecuador to escape the leader of a meditation retreat, who requested a private meeting, whereupon he assaulted me with aggressively wandering hands.
Again, I escaped serious injury, but the experience left my heart beating too fast for what felt like days.
Then there have been all the men who stalked me — sometimes for hours — through foreign city streets; all the painful gropes and catcalls in buses or airport queues.
Some countries ‘offer too much risk’ for women on their own
The frequency with which women experience these kinds of violations during their travels led writer Lee Tulloch to argue in Traveller magazine this month that some countries “offer too much risk” for women visiting on their own.
“Stay well clear of countries where politicians and police notoriously blame the victim,” Tulloch advised her women readers.
This is popular counsel given to the growing number of women planning solo adventures: “Be sensible, don’t go there.”
But is it advice that leaves us too small a map upon which to explore?
Comprehensive statistics specifically detailing the rates of violence against female tourists are hard to come by, but other figures tell us unequivocally that violence against women, committed with virtual impunity, is endemic in every country on Earth.
Australia is no exception. It is estimated up to 1 in 5 Australian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15.
This violence can, and does, extend to women travellers, as was the case with the alleged rape and abduction of two female backpackers in South Australia earlier this year.
Of course, Australia is not an especially risky destination for female travellers.
But for all the inviting warmth of our summer nights and okker accents, it is an often-enthusiastic participant in the global culture of patriarchy that employs violence to lock women out of public space.
Women travelling alone are ‘prime targets’ for victim blaming
We see this culture most visibly legitimised by the all too common occurrence of victim blaming, where women are accused of inviting harassment, violence, or even their own murders by behaving in a manner that “attracts” male attention.
Women attacked by men when travelling solo are often prime targets for victim blaming, a fact recently highlighted by a viral Facebook post written by Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta in defence of two Argentinean women murdered on the coast of Ecuador.