Sexual Health and Safety Abroad

Gender Roles Abroad

Thinking about sex and what it means in a new culture can be quite complex. Our assumptions are created and formed by our existing framework. Cultural expectations and practices often result in well-defined gender roles within a society. Gender roles abroad often differ greatly from those in the United States. While abroad, you may not choose to behave in the same way as traditional local men and women do in the host country; however, it is important to educate yourself about cultural gender roles within your host community in order to make sensitive choices about how you will behave abroad, and to understand how your personal views and opinions may be interpreted by your host culture. For example, American women tend to have a reputation in many countries as being looser, more carefree, and more relaxed with their personal boundaries. American men tend to have a reputation in many countries as being aggressive, loud, and overly patriotic. These opinions are often created and reinforced by American media.

Assault and Harassment Issues

Sexual violence refers to any type of sexual activity where consent is not given or where consent cannot be given due to some incapacitation. Not all types of sexual violence include physical contact-sexual harassment, threats, intimidations, and spying or peeping, while not physical, may be considered sexual violence Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of gender, race, age, socio-economic status, or religion. Many people believe that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers; the reality is that is more likely to be someone you know-a friend, date, neighbor, or relative-rather than a stranger. Here in the United States our concept of sexual harassment is very different than it is in other parts of the world. What we consider sexual harassment may be part of the cultural norms of how men (and other women) treat women and sometimes men in other cultures. Although less common, men can be victims of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment abroad can take the shape of cat-calls, staring, gestures, and usually is more uncomfortable than unsafe. But note that sexual harassment can escalate to sexual assault. If you feel you are being harassed, ignore it and move on as quickly as possible-if you feel unsafe, seek help immediately. For more information on Definitions on Sexual misconduct refer here.

In case of  Sexual Misconduct or assault while abroad

Minimizing the Risks

It is important to remember that sexual violence is never your fault! It happens for the same reasons other types of crime and violence occurs. Below are some tips to minimize the risk of becoming a victim abroad:

·         Drink in moderation and do not take drugs! Being intoxicated can make you a target for predators because of impaired judgment and reduced capacity to protect yourself.   If you are drinking in excess, make sure you are with friends and keep track of each other.

·         Trust your instincts. You should never do something you are not comfortable with, and remember no means no! If you feel cornered by someone, look for a way to get out of the situation.

·         Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Walk confidently and act like you know where you are going. Avoid poorly lit, deserted areas and try not to walk alone, especially at night.

·         Support each other. This is an important way to keep safe abroad. By supporting one another and being there for each other is a key way for both male and female students on study abroad programs to intervene with their peers to prevent an assault from taking place. This also can be called bystander intervention and its goal is to give strategies is to change social norms so that everyone is looking out for one another. This strategy empowers both male and female students on study abroad programs to intervene with their peers to prevent an assault from taking place. More information on this found here.

·         Take cues from locals. Look at how they dress and interact with strangers. Of course you want to be able to express your own individuality, but keep in mind that the way you dress may attract unwanted attention from men and women alike.

·         Do not respond to any catcalls that you receive. Just walk on.

·         If you have to wait somewhere alone, like in a train station, stay near other women or families. This may help keep you from being harassed or approached.

·         Travel Safe. When looking at Hostel, find all female room options, when traveling on public transportation see if they have a women's only section or car.  

·         Check the legality of "self-defense" items in your host country before traveling abroad. Be aware that in certain countries, mace, pepper spray, and other such "self-defense" items are considered weapons and may be illegal to carry. Check on this before you try to carry these items into a host country.

·         Know the emergency number for your host country. It is not 911 as it is here in the United States. Be sure to write this number on your wallet-sized 'In Case of Emergency' card that you received at the large group orientation. You should also include the mobile phone numbers of your program/faculty directors and/or on-site support staff if you ever need to reach them.

·         Keep doors and windows secured whether you're there or not.

·         If you are alone in your residence, don't reveal this fact to anyone unfamiliar that telephones or knocks at the door.

Special Note to Women
Some female students, in certain overseas sites (e.g. South America, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and parts of Europe) have a hard time adjusting to attitudes they encounter abroad, in both public and private interactions between men and women. Some (but not all) men in such countries openly demonstrate their appraisal of women in ways that many U.S. women find offensive. It is not uncommon to be honked at, stared at, verbally and loudly praised, and to be actively noticed simply for being an American woman. Sometimes the attention may feel flattering. However, it may become very annoying, and potentially even angering. Women from that host culture who often get the same sort of treatment, have been taught how to ignore the attention. Many U.S. women find this hard to do. Eye contact between strangers or a smile at someone passing in the street, which is not uncommon in the States, may result in totally unexpected invitations. Some women feel they are forced to stare intently at the ground while they walk down the street.


Safer Sex Abroad

No matter what your decisions about sex while studying abroad, be thoughtful about it. Regardless of your gender identity. You should plan ahead for birth control, contraception, and preventative measures to help protect against sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs/STDs). Do remember that using the birth control pill or other prescription birth control methods alone does not reduce the risk of contracting STIs, STDs, or HIV. Other than abstinence from intercourse, the use of latex condoms is the most reliable method for prevention of the spread of infections and diseases. If you think you may have contracted a STI, STD, or HIV while abroad, contact your local on-site staff to find a local medical provider.