When Paradise turns to HELL; Rape and Travel

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(This piece discusses themes of rape and sexual assault and may be triggering for some people.)

In 2006, I was raped while studying abroad. It’s taken years for me to make peace with this and stop blaming myself for what happened. My hope is that by sharing my story, other victims of rape will stop blaming themselves and maybe, just maybe, start healing.

A solo female traveler for almost five years now, I’ve had some pretty amazing, eye-opening experiences across the globe. I’ve walked along the Great Wall of China, trekked across the Namib Desert, jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gone scuba diving with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef, and even stripped naked in front of an entire indigenous tribe in Africa. Traveling has been an essential part of who I am, and I would not be the same without it. I’ve grown through both the bad and the good, and tried to learn from  each experience along the way. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try to prevent it, bad things just happen in Travel, like anything else in Life.

This was to be the adventure of a Lifetime.

And in many ways, it was. I spent the summer riding motorcycles across the Italian countryside, making friends with locals, learning how to cook pasta “al dente” and eating the best gelato in the world.  But one night turned my paradise into absolute Hell.

I had just turned 20 years old and was studying abroad in Italy. Like many young women who find themselves in a foreign country for the first time in their lives, I was naive and blind to any potential danger. Entirely lost in a dizzying array of sights, sounds and smells, the romance of traveling abroad was like gauze over my eyes.

I simply drank too much. I’m not sure if it was because I was abroad and letting loose for the first time in my life, or whether it was because I missed my friends and family, but I simply just lost control. One of my best friends back home had recently committed suicide, and I was torn apart. I was in mourning and half a world away. Weak social connections, cultural differences, and easy access to alcohol are all common threads for victims of rape while abroad.

I said “No.”

It didn’t matter. He was more powerful than me and did what he wanted, regardless of my tears.

For years I blamed myself. All I could hear were the negative thoughts in my head, ripping me apart. How could I be so stupid and allow this to happen!? I knew that if I was sober, I could have fought him off, and that ate away at me inside.  I told myself that it was my fault. That I asked for it by drinking too much.

When I got back home, things went from bad to worse. The mere mention of Italy brought back horrible nightmares and an almost post-traumatic stress situation. I would have to leave the room, shaking with tears and closed fists. For weeks, I was a nervous wreck.

I became terrified of going anywhere alone.

I had spent days, weeks and months dreaming about my trip to Italy prior to my departure. When I got back home, a faint part of me cringed at the memory of how excited I once was. How I had bragged to all of my friends about the adventures that lay ahead in Italy. At parties, people would ask, “How was your trip? It must have been amazing!” A sick taste crept into my mouth, as I faked a smile and lied through my teeth, “It was great.”

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I sank into a deep, dark depression as my boyfriend and closest friends watched, helpless. “Its not your fault”, my boyfriend tried to tell me, his eyes searching for the carefree girl he once knew hidden somewhere deep down in this shipwreck. Intimacy became impossible. The slightest touch would end in me recoiling in fear as the memories came hurling themselves back at me. I knew he only wanted to hold me and kiss away my tears, and I hated myself all the more.

Eventually, I decided enough was enough. I needed to go to therapy. With the help of my therapist, I practiced positive thinking and self talk. I pretended that I was speaking to a friend if I found out that she was raped. The result was shocking. My self blame and harsh thoughts were replaced with kinder, gentler words.

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“Everything will be okay.”

At the Take Back the Night rally nearly a year later, I listened as woman after woman got up and spoke about what happened to them. I realized that night that there a lot of us out there, and I began to feel a little more confident in myself. Then, suddenly, a male friend approached the podium. I burst into tears as I listened to his survival story. Inspired by his bravery, and the courage of everyone who spoke that night, I walked up to the stage and spoke into the microphone, “Hello. My name is Lauren and I was raped while I was studying abroad.”

The words flew out of my mouth and I instantly felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. Letting go of all of that guilt and self hatred, finally accepting that it wasn’t my fault and loving myself just the same, I finally felt free.

Rape happens Everywhere, not just while Traveling. 

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can happen to anyone, anywhere. Whether we are “safe” at home, or on the road, shit happens. We can’t walk through life afraid of every stranger we meet or hide in our bedrooms to keep ourselves from getting hurt. We must face adversity head on, remembering that travel is a source of wonder, beauty and self growth

Travel bloggers don’t often talk about the darker side of travel. We often only portray the bright, happy-go-lucky times of traveling the world. But today I felt the need to tell my story, for all of the countless survivors of rape out there who don’t have a voice. It’s time to let our stories be heard, not looking for answers- only to find peace within.

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My goal is not to ignite fear or dissuade any woman from following her heart to travel the world. I only wish to tell my story in an effort to move forward with my Life, and inspire others to do the same, no matter what they have been through.

I hope my story helps you in some small way to love yourself once more and be free. Nobody Ever Deserves to Be Raped. 

All my love,

Lauren

 

Helpful Ways to Support a Rape Survivor:

– Listen to them

– Believe them. Most rape victim’s stories are often denied and minimized.

– Show them that you are there if they need someone to talk to.

– Ask how best to support him/her

– Offer help such as housework or chores. (this can help take the strain off of them as they try to begin the healing process)

– Let her/him talk. Survivors sometimes need to go over things many times. Give them space and time to do this.

– Be patient

– If they start to say “If only I hadn’t…” or “I should have…” remind them that the responsibility for the assault lies with the perpetrator and it was not their fault.

-Be sensitive and respect that their healing may take a lot of time, space and energy

If you or someone you know has been raped and needs help please call 1 800 656 HOPE.

Please leave me your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

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39 Comments

  • Reply Reclaiming Your Future July 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I can’t say why but I will just say ‘thank you’ for this post Lauren.

    Much love and strength to you! Be kind to yourself :)

    Toni
    xx

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Thank you Toni! This one was a hard one to write… I’m very thankful for the positive feedback! ^_^

  • Reply Zoe July 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    You are amazingly brave. Brave to overcome such a horrible experience as you have, brave to travel anyway and brave to share it. My words are pitiful, I can’t do you justice. I can’t imagine how hard this would have been to write, but I admire you greatly. I can only imagine the trial you must have been through – thank f*ck.
    A really well written post. Thank you.

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 13, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      Thank you Zoe. Yes, it was a difficult post for me to write, and I erased it a few times. I couldn’t sleep after I published it! I have received so much positive feedback, and a few women have personally messaged me telling me their stories. I cried over each and every one of them, sorry for what happened to them and what is still happening to women and men all over the world.

      But I am extremely grateful for them confiding in me, and happy that by sharing my story I have helped them in some small way.

  • Reply Lyndsay Cabildo July 12, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    :’)

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      <3

  • Reply Vishnu July 12, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    You are a brave soul :) I wish all your dreams come true! And may be one day meet somewhere on the road to get more inspired !

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      Thank you Vishnu! I hope all of your dreams come true too! ^_^ Where are you traveling now?

      • Reply Vishnu July 14, 2014 at 4:58 pm

        You are welcome. :) Unfortunately i am still fighting my fears to start traveling. I will start traveling soon! pretty soon :)

        • Reply Lauren Metzler July 15, 2014 at 3:48 am

          You can do it! Don’t be afraid! 😀

  • Reply Maria Angela Ocampo Nacpil July 13, 2014 at 11:35 am

    You are really brave. Very brave. 😀

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 13, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      Thank you Maria! 😀

  • Reply Reclaiming Your Future Sorry seems to be the hardest word... » Reclaiming Your Future July 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

    […] Sorry really is one of the hardest words you will ever have to learn in your life. It’s simultaneously used too much and meant too little. We apologise for being ourselves. We apologise when other people bump into us. We apologise for being a woman or a Latino man. We apologise when we get raped because it’s ‘our’ fault. […]

  • Reply Renuka Singh July 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I really appreciate and salute your honesty, Lauren! It’s commendable the way you have come this far. God bless you. Yes, traveling solo should NOT be blamed for rapes or any kind of sexual assault, because such dirty stuff happens within our homes too! A woman/girl has to be careful and confident no matter where she is – home, in her native city, at a friend’s/relative’s place, at her workplace, cinema hall, shopping mall or traveling abroad.

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      Thank you Renuka! Yes, I completely agree! I will continue to travel for the rest of my life, and know that this could have happened anywhere. I hope this helps others in some small way heal and move forward with their lives. xo

  • Reply Marta Kulesza July 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for sharing the story. I am glad your road to recovery took off and I hope your perpetrator paid for what he has done!

    I am sure this will help a lot of woman around the world. I shared your article. I hope that’s ok.:)

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Thank you Marta! Yes, share away! I hope that my story can help others in some small way. <3

  • Reply Stephanie July 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    You are incredibly brave. Thank you.

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks Stephanie!

  • Reply Emma July 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you for your honesty and bravery. I hope more women (especially travelers) realize their support systems around the world are here, we want you to speak up and we want to hear your story. You do not stand alone.

    Much Respect &Love,
    a fellow female Traveler

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you so much for the positive feedback and support, Emma! Yes, that is exactly why I wanted to share my story.

      When I researched rape abroad I found almost nothing. Nobody was talking about it, especially not travel bloggers. At first, I was really nervous putting my story out there for everyone to see, as it is not a “happy story”. But I am glad that I did!

      Both women and men alike who are victims of rape need to have some sort of support system, especially while abroad.

      XO Lauren

  • Reply Lana July 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! You are incredible and so brave to share this with your readers. As a female solo world traveler, I understand the need to explore the world mixed in with the knowledge that you can be taken advantage of or hurt by others anywhere in the world. I have been in numerous uncomfortable situations which kept me in fear to leave my hostel room for days. You are right- this can happen anywhere not just traveling but you are truly amazing to continue traveling despite the traumatic situation you incurred. You are an inspiration. :)

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      Thank you Lana! I was extremely nervous sharing this story, but I am so happy that I did. I have had so much positive feedback and women from all over the globe sharing their stories. I hope that they have found some peace knowing that they have support worldwide! 😀

  • Reply The Blonde July 16, 2014 at 12:06 am

    This was brave and honest and I hope healing in some way. I’m glad you got help and have come a long way. I hope the beast who did this has karma catch up with him if the law didn’t. Take care of yourself!

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Thank you so much! It has been a long time, but writing it all out and getting so much positive feedback has been very comforting. I truly do believe that Karma will catch up with him someday, along with all of the other perpetrators in the world! xo Lauren

  • Reply Claire | Traveling Light July 16, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Gratitude to you and all the women out there who have the courage to tell your stories and inspire other women too. You are one brave beautiful soul. Though my harassment experience is nowhere near as horrible as yours, I also experienced blaming myself and being blamed by friends, and not even acknowledging the responsibility the perpetrator. It was one friend who understood my situation who helped me see that it was the perpetrator’s fault, not mine. We women – and men – should indeed be more sensitive towards those who experienced sexual violence. Your post, I believe, can help people understand the issue of rape and other forms of violence against women more.

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      This makes my heart so sad that anyone would blame you for being the victim of a crime. It was not your fault, Claire. No matter what the excuse, nobody has the right to take advantage of another person’s body without consent. Just remember that there are plenty of us out there who understand what you are going through if you ever need support.

      Surround yourself with loved ones who will give you a shoulder to cry on, a hug when you need it, and comforting words when you feel down. That is what makes a true friend!

      XO Lauren

  • Reply Rebekah Crabtree July 20, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    You’re right, its not your fault. Thank you for sharing your story

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks Rebekah! <3

  • Reply Craig July 21, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Thank you for your story.

  • Reply traveljerzgirl July 21, 2014 at 2:30 am

    Wow Lauren, I just got back from Italy and luckily I did not get raped but it could have turned to that. I was sexually molested by an owner of a hostel I was trying to stay at. It literally just happened a week or two ago. I haven’t written a post about it yet but I felt so violated. I always thought I’d fight someone off if they did something like that to me, but everything happened so fast. Thank god, he listened but only after the 5th time of me saying stop.

    That was my first time in Italy and kinda put a damper on my experience there. I have a bit of a bad taste in my mouth as well. I decided to fly back home to the states for a bit to clear my head and figure out my next move.

    Thank you for writing this piece, its beautiful to see your strength shine through.

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Thank you traveljerzgirl, I am so sorry to hear about what happened to you and hope that it hasn’t ruined traveling for you in the future.

      It might take a little while for you to feel comfortable on the road again, but that’s okay. Give yourself time to clear your head and surround yourself with family and loved ones. It took a long time for me to be able to travel Anywhere after what happened, but I am so happy that I did!

      Just remember that what they did was only to your body, not to your spirit. Let it shine! Keep loving yourself and the world around you.

      XO Lauren

  • Reply This American Girl July 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you for your your incredible bravery in sharing this story. You are beautiful <3

    • Reply Lauren Metzler July 21, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you This American Girl! <3

  • Reply Sara Hamil July 22, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Wow, what a post. You’re absolutely right when you say that travel bloggers don’t usually touch the darker stuff. In my opinion I think you’re not only incredibly brave for sharing your story with everyone but you’ve also done something super important. Thank you for writing this. Much love! <3

  • Reply Sky Fisher August 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! <3

  • Reply The World on my Necklace August 4, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Thank you so much for sharing Lauren. it definitely sounds like it was the right thinhg to seek help from a Therapist. You are right that Travel Bloggers only seem to talk about the good side of travel most of the time.

  • Reply Dana August 4, 2014 at 5:47 am

    thank you so much for sharing your story. Because of you I had the courage to share mine.

  • Reply CHARITY September 16, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Can i ask,as a rape survivor,at 13 and 22, do you know any reason a person WOULD NOT report this horrible crime and or not mention it for mths ? And seemingly having a relaxed working woderful happy life and loving family then say 8mths later this happened. Very confused.i think we all share a common thread.please help me understand. Thank you ,charity

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