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Traveling Alone As a Woman

22 Feb 2012

written by Carolyn

1280px-Atlantic_ocean_negril_jamaica

This piece from Feministing founding editor Chloe Angyal, about a frightening near-abduction while she was traveling alone in India, reminded me of the last time I traveled by myself outside the U.S.

At the time, I was in my twenties. I was an associate at a top New York City law firm, and I’d begun rewarding myself for working 60-70 hours a week by using my vacation time to travel.

Traveling was a big deal for me. I never traveled as a kid. My family didn’t have money to see the U.S.A., let alone anyplace outside the U.S. A trip to California was considered exotic in my family. Leaving the country felt as unreal as space travel.

When I decided I needed to get away, I went to the Caribbean, always by myself. I loved the freedom of traveling alone – what Angyal describes as “[t]he freedom to make your own decisions, to move at your own pace, to literally choose your own path.”

My last solo Caribbean vacation was to Negril, Jamaica. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort where, to my surprise and delight, a group of NFL players also were staying. They checked me out as I checked in. No one in the group was famous, but as a lifelong football fan, I knew they were pro football players long before the desk clerk confirmed it. I settled into my room, changed into a bikini, and went for a run on the beach just as the players headed out on their Jet skis.

I feigned surprise when the guys called me over and invited me to hang out with them. I wasn’t the athlete groupie type, but I was especially attracted to one of the wide receivers, who cut through my half-hearted protests: “You know you want to come, stop the bullshitting.” They laughed. I felt safe with them – unreasonably, perhaps, but I did. They were American, I was American. They were guys whose names I’d heard before, guys I’d seen on TV. A few minutes later, I was that girl in a bikini sitting on the back of a motorcycle, gripping the waist of the wide receiver. Fun times.

It seems every group of famous or semi-famous people includes at least one hanger-on. I couldn’t quite figure out the hanger-on’s connection to the players. He appeared to be some kind of assistant to one of the players. Whoever he was, he disliked me on sight. When I was pretending I didn’t want to go out, Hanger-On Guy said, “Look man, she said she don’t wanna go,” and tried to get the wide receiver to leave me behind. He seemed pissed off by my presence the entire time.

We wound up at Rick’s Café in Negril, where we laughed, had some drinks, and watched the cliff divers until just before sunset. It was peaceful and relaxed. The guys invited me to a party later that evening at a different resort, but I declined. I was tired. And I was very conscious of not wanting my flirtation with the wide receiver to appear to be a group invitation.

They took me back to the resort. Just after I said good-bye to the wide receiver, Hanger-On Guy pulled me aside and told me the group was getting back together at the resort, after the party. Hanger-On Guy gave me a room number and a time to arrive.

I was a little suspicious, but figured it was on the up and up. The players had treated me respectfully up to that point. I wondered why Hanger-On Guy was the one giving me this information and not the wide receiver, but Hanger-On Guy seemed to be the organization/planning/scheduling guy. In that context, I rationalized, it made sense.

I showered, put on a sundress, and showed up at the room at the time Hanger-On Guy had told me to show up. No one but Hanger-On Guy was there. I instantly realized I was in trouble. I tried to leave. Hanger-On Guy blocked my way to the door, then pushed me down to the floor.

I thought back to my college assault, of gagging on a penis shoved down my throat. Please Lord, don’t let me get raped in a foreign country, I prayed silently.

I screamed. I said no. I pushed and struggled. Hanger-On Guy wasn’t a football player, but he was a man, and he easily overpowered me. No one heard my screams, and no one came. I was in Hanger-On Guy’s room alone, and he intended to rape me. I punched and kicked and scratched. He blocked my puny blows, laughing.

Hanger-On Guy muttered a lot of ugly words as he fumbled with his pants and his penis. He said I thought I was so cute, but I was just an average ho looking to get fucked, and he was going to give me what I was looking for. In hindsight, he was like those cartoon villains whose speeches about their evil plans give the hero time to devise a weapon to rescue himself. But he wasn’t a cartoon villain. He was real, and I was in danger.

The only weapon I had left were my words.

“Do you have sisters?” I asked, looking into his eyes to avoid seeing what was going on below his waist.

“Yes,” he answered, frowning.

“Tell me this,” I continued, in as calm a voice as I could muster. “If someone – some man – did to your sisters or your mother what you’re about to do to me, how would you feel about it?”

And he stopped. Cold.

He let me go. I ran back to my room.

Photo credit: Piotr Bizior www.bizior.com

Shame is powerful. I didn’t think like a lawyer, but like a woman who blamed myself for what had happened. I didn’t call hotel security, let alone the Negril police. I didn’t think of contacting any of the powerful partners at my firm. I wanted no part of any scandal. Although I hadn’t gone to Hanger-On Guy’s room for sex, I was ashamed I’d gone to his room at all. I hadn’t done those things women are supposed to do to protect themselves from acquaintance rape. So it was all my fault.

I thought of what Hanger-On Guy said about me. I’d spent the day drinking and flirting with football players. I’d hopped on the back of a motorcycle with a bunch of strange men, wearing nothing but a bikini. According to his logic, that made me a ho, and if I was a ho, I deserved to be raped. I consoled myself with the fact that I’d talked my way out of being raped. I felt I’d dodged a bullet, for which I was intensely grateful.

We women victims of sexual assault don’t need men to slut shame us. We’re quite good at slut shaming ourselves.

The next day, the wide receiver stopped by my room. Reluctantly, and because it was daylight, I let him in. He asked me what happened with Hanger-On Guy. Not surprisingly, Hanger-On Guy had boasted that I went to his room while the others were at the party, and claimed we had sex.

I was furious. “What really happened is, he lied and said you guys were having some after party, and when I got to his room, he tried to rape me. If he said anything else happened, he’s lying on his dick.”

The wide receiver said he believed my story. And in many ways, that was it. I even dated the wide receiver for a few weeks after I returned to the States.

Whenever I see articles advising women how to protect themselves against rape, I think about Negril and Hanger-On Guy. I did all the stupid stuff women are advised not to do, and I almost got raped. Yet, for me, my experience illustrates the futility of that advice. The difference between my college experience, where I was assaulted by a man I considered a friend, and Negril, where I was nearly raped by a stranger – wasn’t my behavior, but the man’s. Hanger-On Guy didn’t rape me because he decided not to. In Negril, the rapist changed his mind. Simple as that.

I’ve traveled alone in the years since Negril, but I no longer feel truly free to chart my own course. Some would say I’ve learned to travel wiser. It feels, however, like loss.


18 Comments on Traveling Alone As a Woman

  1. E brown

    Thank you for your courage to reveal your life. Interestingly enough, it is for reasons such as what you shared why I never traveled alone. I have heard this story from woman that are close to me, except they were raped and others beaten. I never would of imagined it for anyone, not least of all them. Again thank you for your courageous voice and I hope this brings about a constructive dialogue.

  2. E brown

    Thank you for your courage to reveal your life. Interestingly enough, it is for reasons such as what you shared why I never traveled alone. I have heard this story from woman that are close to me, except they were raped and others beaten. I never would of imagined it for anyone, not least of all them. Again thank you for your courageous voice and I hope this brings about a constructive dialogue.

  3. Andrea Morgan

    Wow Carolyn. Of course I’m so sorry this happened and I understand that feeling of loss.

    Its funny how your life is forever altered by someone else’s choices. Its why I wear dresses and makeup so infrequently. Intellectually I know it wasn’t my fault, that what a woman is wearing has no bearing on what a rapist does. Emotionally though…the self doubt, self shaming, second guessing, re-hashing is real.

  4. CaliGirlED

    Just wow Carolyn! I don’t even know what to say! This made me sad.

    “We women victims of sexual assault don’t need men to slut shame us. We’re quite good at slut shaming ourselves.” is so true, and men know this and rely on it to quiet their victims post-assault.

    You said you were almost raped in Negril, and I know compared to your college assault it feels that way. But personally I feel you were raped, if not physically, emotionally. And I only say that because I’m sure that kind of situation happens to a lot of women, but gets down played. Thank God he didn’t fully accomplish what he planned, but that sorry son of a bitch raped you!

    I’m so glad you shared this story. I never had to travel alone in my younger days, but I am the type to (and plan to in the near future) travel alone. I know now that I would be very reluctant to be really carefree, but a good slickster who’s up on his game will definitely try his hand. I would love to hear some tips on, as you call it, “travelling wiser”.

    You are so awesome!

  5. Miz JJ

    “We women victims of sexual assault don’t need men to slut shame us. We’re quite good at slut shaming ourselves.”

    This was powerful for me to read. Thanks for this post.

  6. Jacquie

    Powerful.

    Thank you, ladies, for sharing!

  7. Ms. Smart

    I feel like were damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If a woman is in the company of a man and something bad happens, society sees it as somehow her fault. If she is cautious and avoid those situations, she’s being ridiculous and paranoid. Add to that, if she isn’t mainstream attractive and cautious, she’s delusional. Ugh!!! This is yet another area where, even as victims/survivors, still come away with blame.

  8. aisha

    Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us. this is a truly powerful story, your way out was and is a lesson to so many of us who would have never thought of it. I’m sorry you experienced this or even the other story you shared. It’s sad and scary to think 1 in every 4 women will experience this, even scarier when you have sisters and when you have daughters close to your age when it happened. Near disasters always take a little more of who we are and the people who perpetrate them walk away while we are left piecing our souls back together while huge chunks are missing.

    thanks for sharing

  9. OSHH

    WOW, so many thoughts on this, from having been date raped myself and moving about alone, not traveling the world yet though..Being wiser does feel like your wings are clipped in a sense that you have to be mindful of your movements, actions, words, interactions, how you may be perceived etc etc etc. Powerful piece!

  10. Blurbette

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece, Carolyn. I’m so sorry this happened to you ( or that it happens to anyone).

    That shame…we blame ourselves for the dance we did at the club, the drink we had, going to his car, opening our door, smiling, staring a second too long, going to that club, party, bbq, waking that day and daring to live. Your words ring true, we really don’t need men to slut shame us. We’re gifted at it…and where we fail, friends and family and police are good to fill up the remainder.

    He may not have physically raped you, but he did rape your spirit that night. Things memory won’t let us run from.

    I’m so thankful you were able to get through to him and get away, but I fear for anyone who wasn’t.

    Thank you so much for this. You give me courage, Lady!

  11. arieswym

    “We women victims of sexual assault don’t need men to slut shame us. We’re quite good at slut shaming ourselves.”

    This hit super-close to home for me. Thank you for the post.

  12. Lewis Barlow

    Thank you for sharing that story!!!!

  13. Ron Eldridge

    Powerful and deep story… and I am very sorry this happened to you. I tend to also find there is a double standard when it comes to incidents like this, as if the woman must bear a level of responsibility for provoking or “influencing” this type of behavior from men. Thanks for sharing. You are a great writer – glad to have found your blog today.

  14. Drea

    A bunch of emotions ran through me while reading this story. The two that I felt the strongest were anger and fear. Rape is my biggest fear ever. I have often wanted to just pack up and go away on my own just to have time to just be. But it is things like what you experienced that make me afraid. Someone noticing I am alone and trying to do something to me keeps me from taking that solo trip.

    I am so glad that you were able to talk Hangeron Guy out of raping you and I am so sorry for the situation that occured while you were in college. I pray I never have a story like that to tell.

  15. Dr. Goddess

    I so very much appreciate this narrative, as I thought about a story I needed to write about last night. The slut-shaming is real. And men know good and damn well when their partners ain’t sh*t. They KNOW IT. I cosign everything that’s been stated above me and please know I laughed openly, about the villain describing his acts and giving you time to think. I wonder who else he encountered in his life who thought she was “too cute” to be with him, so he decided he was gonna force her, too?… SMH.

  16. Carolyn

    Thanks for your comment, and thanks for laughing at the cartoon villain line. As I thought about the incident and that moment in particular, I was reminded of the “no monologue!” edict in The Incredibles. I couldn’t resist and am glad you picked up on the humor.

  17. Eva

    Thank you so much for sharing. I think back to my college years and how free I felt to do so many stupid things. I would imagine that I would feel that someone stole that from me if I had been attacked. I was in enough situations where my freedom to live with complete and reckless abandon could have been snatched away (along with my life). I am glad you shared this story – I just wonder what I can tell my daughter so that she will be able to experience the company of the opposite sex, without feeling threatened or like she owes them – something to keep her cautious and free at the same time. I wonder if that is even possible.

    I found the villain thing funny too. My son always asks me, why do they talk so long before they go ahead and try to kill them? I tell him that it is because they need to give the hero time to come up with a plan to beat them.


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