As a solo female traveller of over seven years, I know that travel can be an incredible experience that completely transforms your life. For many women, it will be just that. But we can't pretend that the experience of a woman travelling solo is the same as will be experience by a man travelling alone. This is why I've teamed up with JD Spicer Solicitors to provide a detailed and informative guide for women who experience the darker side of solo female travel. Trigger warning, this article provides guidance and support to survivors of sexual assault abroad. If you have experienced anything described in this article, please don't hesitate to reach out and talk to someone you trust. Whether that is some form of law enforcement, or simply a friend or family member. Please don't feel alone.
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Sexual Assault When Travelling Solo
For many women, travelling solo is often a freeing and empowering experience. Unfortunately for a few, this may not always be the case. Sexual assault can happen anywhere when you’re abroad, and on top of the risks that accompany the assault, such as unwanted pregnancies and possible STI exposure, victims of the crime also have to deal with these effects in a climate they’re unfamiliar with. A survivor may decide they want to report an assault. But they may find the experience overwhelming and confusing due to the differences in foreign laws and languages. Not to mention the sentencing guidelines for sexual assault overseas compared to the UK may not be as expected.
Getting Help After a Sexual Assault Abroad
If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, it’s important to remember it’s not your fault. While some people may choose to talk to the police, it is your choice whether or not you want to report the crime. You might be worried that if you don’t report the crime, the perpetrator will assault someone else. However, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for their actions, only they are.
If you want to talk about your options confidentially. Rape Crisis UK offer a helpline where you can speak to them anonymously. They can offer support and advice. If, however, you would like to speak to the police and find out your next steps. Below we’ll guide you through some of the actions you can take whilst overseas.
Forensic Evidence After a Sexual Assault
If you have experienced a rape or sexual assault less than a week ago, there may be forensic evidence that the police can use in their investigation. So, if you want to report, or you’re unsure, try not to:
- Eat or drink
- Brush or comb your hair
- Change or throw away your clothes
- Brush your teeth
- Go to the toilet (if you have to go, try and do it in a clean container)
- Move or clean anything where the assault took place
However, it is important to note that if you do one or more of these things, it’s still completely okay and you can still report the crime. Once you’ve had a forensic medical examination, and the police have collated evidence, you’ll be able to carry on doing the things listed above.
What if the Assault Happened a While Ago?
Even if the assault happened a long time ago, this doesn’t mean you can’t report it. Some people worry that it may be too late to report rape or sexual assault as there may not be ‘any evidence’. However, your account of what happened is evidence.
Who to Contact if You Experience Sexual Assault Abroad
The travel advice for women pages on the GOV UK website provide a directory for emergency services in most countries. In the European Union, you can call 112 for local emergency services.
It’s also strongly advisable to contact the British Embassy or Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in London (+44 (0)20 7008 5000). While they won’t be able provide you with any legal advice or investigate any crimes, they can do the following:
- Help find you an English-speaking lawyer.
- Help find you a translator.
- Possess an understanding of how the local police and legal procedures work.
- Find you the medical treatment you may need, and an English-speaking doctor.
- Contact friends and family back home.
- Request support from a sexual offences trained officer from your local UK police station to advise and help you.
- Put you in touch with rape crisis organisations in the UK, such as Rape Crisis UK.
Things to Know When Reporting A Sexual Assault Abroad
In most countries, you must report a crime before returning to the UK if you want it to be investigated. Sadly, in a small number of countries, being the victim of rape or sexual assault abroad could be considered illegal. As a result, reporting the incident could end up with you being questioned in relation to the assault. This is why it is advised to speak to the British Embassy or FCDO as they have a good understanding of the local laws and police. It’s also important to note, that the UK police do not have any jurisdiction to investigate an assault that has taken place abroad. It is only up to the foreign police forces to decide whether to investigate a crime in their jurisdiction or not.
Returning to the UK After Assault
If you reported the assault to the local police abroad, and judicial authorities share information with the UK, the FCDO will be able to update you with any developments in your case if it goes to trial. If your case does go to trial, it is advisable you appoint a lawyer. The British Embassy should be able to give you advice on which ones are best for rape and sexual assault cases.
Insurance and Compensation
If you received medical treatment overseas, your travel insurance may cover you for any injuries resulting from a crime, and any belongings you lost due to the assault. It’s most likely that, for the claim to be valid, the crime must be reported to the police in the country the crime took place. Some insurance providers may also cover your legal fees, so check their policy for more information.
You may also be entitled to compensation due to being the victim of a crime abroad. However, this will depend on the country, and you will most likely need a police report to apply. For more information, we recommend contacting the British Embassy.
Solo Travel and Sexual Assault
While solo travelling for most women is an enjoyable and liberating experience, sadly for a few, this is not necessarily the case. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape, your biggest priority should be seeking safety.
While it is completely your decision whether you want to report it or not. Even just getting in contact with the British Embassy, or a rape crisis organisation if you want it to be anonymous, can be helpful in offering you the support you need.
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Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal and/or medical professional. Be sure to consult a lawyer/solicitor and/or medical professional if you’re seeking advice on the law and/ or medical advice. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.