(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.”
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.
“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.
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,
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.