What to do when the tourist becomes a victim of abuse
We all look forward to holidays and vacations as it the time we expect to have a good time, enjoy the friendly crowd, resorts or beaches. For various reasons tourists around the world become unfortunate victims of abuse (verbal, physical and sexual). If they do have the misfortune of suffering abuse, this article helps one to understand who to prevent and what to do in such difficult circumstances.
IntroductionPopular holiday destinations, unique hidden nature trails, crowded beaches, cities with bustling nightlife all are good places for people to have their dream vacation. Tourism is an important part of revenue for many cities and countries. Sadly each such place would have a dark side and a forgetful history which is related to the physical and sexual abuse of tourists. Given the negative implications, abuse often is covered up or underplayed by the authorities to avoid scaring the potential tourists.
Tips to avoid becoming victims of abuse.
- Safety numbers : Traveling in groups is the best option when you plan a trip. if you do have to visit places alone, try to look for fellow travelers at the same spot to cover each other back.
- Be self-resilient: Self-defense is the best means of instant help at hand and yet many of us ignore this valuable safety skill. For instance, in India, parents spend huge amounts of money on the wedding and then send them on honeymoon to exotic locations. How of them ever think of crash course in self-defense?
- Choose your holiday destination well: There are many tourist destinations and each one of them attracts a particular kind of crowd more than others. So, when you book, try to find out whether it's family friendly, singles friendly etc. Most vacation spots are known for things that would not be advertised in the open but people familiar with the place would update you.
- Be practical: Think of the city you live in and the crimes or shady areas that you would avoid. Yet when we travel, we think all is rosy and well with the place. Find out the areas or localities that are potentially unsafe for you and the family. If you are doing a booking be cautious about the budget accommodation. Try to spend a little more, by thinking of it as an investment in safety and choose a place that is popular with families and safe for women and children.
- Plan well: To save time and money, some travelers hop and jump from city to town, travel in late night buses into the interior and arrive at the destination at untimely hours. Arriving at places that are known for the nature trails that are located deep into the interior, where the population is sparse and most places are shut down by late evening should be avoided. If you are traveling with children or as newly wedded couples unless you have the resort manager, friend or tour guide pick you up from the bus stand and drop you at to your accommodation, try to reach little bit early.
Many well-known destinations will have other attractions that are around 30-50kms from the place that can be visited in half a day's time. If you do intend to do this sort of an extended travel, plan well so that you leave early and return early. In cities, we are used to people traveling up and down regularly at night times so the roads are not deserted, but far-flung places will little or no traffic after a certain period of time. This is when a tourist would be vulnerable to be followed by or surprised with criminal intent.
- Be well versed with the tourist places: Nowadays internet is so popular and accessible that you can get information at your fingers. For instance, there would be articles about the violent cities, unfavorable tourist spots list, crime rates of particular places. Many embassies give you additional information and travel alerts.
- Basic safety devices: We have many simple by effective devices that can help us in emergency situations to repel sexual predators, a pepper spray (Cobra Magnum self-defense spray, Empower, Health genie etc) that are now available in India. High pitched self-alarms are also available in the Indian market that is easy to carry with a loud shrill noise (around 150dB).
- Safety with trackers: Have a good mobile handset that has GPS tracker and emergency contact apps. Keep a few numbers on speed dial.There are many apps that have a trigger. Once the trigger is activated when an SOS goes to the fixed numbers that are already entered into it (eg: SmartSehar Woman Safety Shield Protection, Pukar) or apps like 'walk with me', be safe etc, these are like a GPS tracker.
- Attire: There would be different views about this. In general, being conservative as the area needs/demands would be helpful in avoiding drawing attention. Wear lose clothing, choose footwear that helps you to be flexible if you need to run or sprint.
- Interaction with locals: Due to geopolitical or religious differences, at times our interaction with locals can be misunderstood. For instance in India, it's not common to hug a stranger or a fellow tourist or give a peck on the cheek, but this would be acceptable in some western cities. So knowing the local traditions, the do's and don't will help us be safe. Also be very clear with your appropriate body language and conservation so that misunderstanding doesn't occur as to when you need company or not. Please be careful about accepting and inviting locals to join you after a drink or for dinner in places that you are not familiar with.
- Sending updates: If you are a single traveler, then it would be wise to keep sending regular updates to parents, sister, brother, letting them know whom you've met, where did you stay, eat and where you are moving next. This will help your family and friends to track you soon if you 'go off the radar'.
- Trusting people: We all have to trust our travel agent, our tour guide, the natives or tribal we meet, the stranger who gives us a lift etc. Trust with caution and being alert helps. The moment we drop our guard and blindly trust people, then mishaps can happen. Trust your gut feelings or instinct, if something doesn't sound right or you feel uneasy, make a quick exit and seek help.
- Watch what you eat and drink: We all have heard of fellow travelers getting drugged after eating biscuits that strangers give. 'Spiked drinks' that induces stupor or sleep when the criminal take advantage of the tourists. It's worth just remembering this while we partake our food or our drinks while we socialize with locals, fellow tourists whom we meet at the spot and other strangers.
- Travel safety: If you are visiting a lonely are or a nature trail, plan your movements, be aware of the potential points of trouble, book and travel with registered local cabs or taxis, their fares will be little higher but at least they would be traceable.
- Stay visible: If you are in a location that has a party atmosphere with alcohol, drugs going around, or a large theme park, a sprawling huge park (for instance, Sim's Park in Coonoor) please avoid the scheduled areas and corners wherein you are out of the view of the rest. Being in the crowd or where people are around during day visits or evening long walks or while enjoying nigh-life allows you to have fun and also be safe.
What to do if you become a victim of abuse?Unfortunately, by a stroke of bad luck, if you do become a victim, then don't panic or despair and keep staying alive as the paramount aim and work towards it.
- Verbal abuse: Often tourists are received well in the vacation spots but at times the locals, the vendors or people under the influence of alcohol, moral brigade members or troublemakers provoke tourists and start to verbally abuse the visitors. If you find yourself in such situations, then try to defuse it by not having counter-arguments, insisting on who's right and who's wrong or even demanding your rights. Stay calm and confident and withdraw from the immediate zone and move off to a place like a well-known restaurant, tourist information help desk, mingle with other tourists and retreat back to the safety (a public office, a crowded coffee shop, a museum or even your room). Then you can re-organize yourself and decide to continue with the rest of your tour plan
- Physical abuse : This rarely happens, especially when men start to argue or when menfolk have a heated exchange with locals, when tourists vociferously complain about being cheated, about poor food quality or poor quality of souvenirs or even facilities at the accommodation or resort. There are some instances when travelers complain about the housekeeping staff or car attendant misbehaving or stealing things. Once the management takes such staff to task, they can come back with vengeance in mind and corner the visitors during their local travel and start assaulting them. If at all, you find yourself in such a situation, try to fight back if you can depending on the number of people on either side and your skills. If not, protect your face and private areas and start running away. Raise the alarm for help.Once you reach safety, don't panic, seek the help of the police or law enforcement staff in the region, register a complaint, insist on getting medical help and formal assessment. Update your family back home so that they can monitor the situation until you are safely moved out of the region. If you can and have the means of reaching your country's embassy, then lodge a formal written complaint as seek their help in safe extraction
- Sexual abuse: This would be the worst nightmare when an adult or a teenager or a child is involved. If it's possible to repeal, use the alarm devices and self-defense measures and sprays, do so and run towards the well-lit areas calling for help. Activate all the emergency contacts. It is emotionally and physically traumatic if one cannot avoid being sexually abused at a holiday destination. Once, this happens, collect your thoughts and think only about getting out alive. When there is a chance to escape, take it and reach safety, call from local help ( the resort manager, the tour guide, the taxi driver etc). Once you reach safety, check for obvious bleeding and major injuries. Seek the help of the local authorities and contact your family and the embassy immediately. The family can hire a good lawyer or get legal help from the embassy in lodging a complaint, to get examined and samples to be collected as per the legal requirements of the land while investigating a rape or sexual abuse victim. Remember as many details of the perpetrators as possible. Request a friend or a helping hand from the embassy to advise you appropriately of the local protocols that you have to follow and then leave the country with the permission of the local police and your embassy.
Once you are back in your home country, contact the external affairs ministry, hire expert help and pursue the case so that the culprits are caught and punished. It would be a horrifying ordeal that you would have survived but don't stop at that, ensure that your story reaches other travelers and the local Government authorities so that they take corrective action
ConclusionA holiday in heaven can become a nightmare in hell if as tourists we have the misfortune of suffering physical or sexual abuse. We should hope that this does not happen to us but also be prepared by knowing the do's and don't related to such crimes that can fall upon us while we are away from our familiar surroundings and in a foreign place.