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Sexual Assault Stories From The Road (& What I’ve Learned)

His hand was under my dress and his tongue was in my mouth…

…and I didn’t even know who he was.

This wasn’t some drunken night at a bar or a date that lasted past midnight.

It was completely non-consensual.

Actually, my only interactions with this man were when I first checked into the hotel, and then now when I’d come down to the front desk to ask a question.

The gross encounter probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like minutes passed as I tried to understand what was happening.

Who was this guy?

And when did I become pressed against the wall?

(*Note: You can find the video version of this blog post at the end of it).

Sexual Assault Stories: In An Ecuador Hotel

Talk about scary travel stories!

This confrontation happened years ago.

I was in Banos, Ecuador, though I couldn’t tell you the hotel name, what season it was or really even what the guy looked like.

But I will always remember that room:

A small check-in desk on the left. Worn-out grey couches behind it. A sliding door on the right leading to an in-ground pool, which wafted in the faint scent of chlorine.

After I managed to pull away from the strange hotel desk attendant, I sprinted up the stairs as fast as I could; like a terrified actress running from Freddy Krueger.

running up hotel stairs
Stairs via Paul Basel/Pexels

My heart pounded, hitting against the inside of my chest. I didn’t have time to consider how out of breath I was though. The only thing on my mind was getting away from him.

Earlier in my South America backpacking trip, I’d met an Argentinian guy named Marco and we’d hit it off. After a few tipsy nights laughing on a hostel balcony until the wee hours of the morning, we decided to travel together.

And now, as I threw open the hotel room door, I hated that I had to rely on him.

But I also felt thankful he was there.

I’m sure I looked like a deer in headlights as I ran into the room, too shocked to cry but too confused to string together a logical sentence.

Somehow, though, I told Marco what happened enough to see him ball up his fists and run down the stairs.

clenched fist sexual assault stories
Clenched fists via Pixabay/Pexels

I hung back in the room, hearing the altercation from upstairs. Marco shouted in Spanish too fast for me to understand.

After a few minutes, I peered over the stair banister, deciding it was safe to make my way down.

The hotel manager was called — I don’t remember by whom — and he understandably had a lot of questions about what happened.

But there was one question in particular that stuck out to me:

“Are you sure this happened?”

Maybe it was the faint stain of red wine on my teeth from dinner, or maybe it was because I looked terrified; heck, maybe it was because he wanted to believe his employee wouldn’t do this to a random guest in his hotel, but with this one question he essentially told me he wasn’t convinced I was telling the truth.

He reminded me of how big an accusation I was throwing around.

Am I sure a stranger I barely spoke to threw me against a wall and assaulted me?

Yes, I’m sure.

Are you sure this happened?

Are you sure this happened?

Are you SURE this happened?

being questioned after sexual assault
Being questioned via Canva

I was sure.

But as the interrogation went on, something strange happened.

I stopped being so sure.

Was it possible I came downstairs to ask a question and the man at the front desk simply answered it, and I completely imagined being thrown against the wall?

Was my imagination really *that* wild?

My skin still burned where he had touched me. My mouth still felt the uncontrollable urge to spit out what had happened.

But if it happened, then why didn’t anyone seem to believe me?

sad woman
Frustrated woman via Juan Pablo Arenas/Pexels

Finally, the front desk guy broke down in tears and admitted I was telling the truth.

Of course, they believed him. And now, finally, me.

The employee was fired, and Marco and I went back upstairs.

It was over quickly enough, and as time passed I began to forget about it.

Until recently.

Afraid To Travel Alone As A Female

As the #MeToo movement pushes on and more women share their stories, I find females who are just starting their travel journeys also asking me more questions.

Here’s a popular one:

“Have you ever been sexually assaulted on the road?”

I pause, hearing the fear in their words.

I want to share with them inspiring stories about the kindness of strangers. I don’t want to add to that fear, and I especially don’t want to make anyone afraid to travel solo, something I think everyone should try at least once.

But I don’t want to lie, either.

“Yes, more than once,” I reply.

torres del paine sign
Torres del Paine (Chile) sign via Jens Johnsson/Pexels

Sexual Assault Stories: On A Tour In Chile

Because there was also the time in Chile when my tour guide decided I was his girlfriend…before I even knew him well enough to remember his name.

I was in my young 20s and alone, and he took advantage of that. As our tour group wandered off to photograph Torres del Paine National Park, he caught me alone, grabbed me from behind and kissed me.

Instead of being outraged, I wondered what I’d done to attract his attention.

It was cold, and I wore baggy clothes. I hadn’t been loud on the bus; actually, I’d been asleep thanks to the painfully early pickup time. My face was void of makeup.

But he was also attractive and my age. When he asked me my name, did I say it too smiley? Did I flirt when he asked where I was from?

Looking back, it pains me to think of how I tried to put the blame on myself.

torres del paine chile
Torres del Paine (Chile) via Jens Johnsson/Pexels

The truth is, I just wanted to visit the beautiful Patagonian park I’d seen in photos, and I wasn’t willing to wait until there was someone to go with.

And so, I traveled there solo.

The guide continued hitting on me, touching my waist and trying to catch me alone.

In front of the group, he asked an older gentleman to take our photo, and as the camera flashed the creepy tour guide pinched my butt, just out of sight for anyone to notice.

When we stopped for the restroom and hot drinks before heading back to our hotels in El Calafate, I had hot cocoa waiting for me when exiting the toilet.

“I got this for you,” he smiled.

I sat staring at the mug, not wanting to make a scene.

black coffee
Coffee via Pixabay/Pexels

The truth is, while I tried to distance myself from him and limit my time away from the group, I didn’t scream “get away from me!”

I was young and didn’t want to inconvenience anyone else’s trip. I blamed myself for it happening in the first place.

Honestly, I’m not even sure I verbally told him to stop.

But I didn’t tell him to start either.

What I’ve Learned From These Experiences

If I could go back there are things I would have done differently.

Or at least, I hope I would.

In the first instance, I like to think that today I would find it inside of myself to be more self-assured when telling the hotel manager what happened to me.

In the second case, I hope I would have told someone, even if it was quietly asking a couple or group of friends if I could stick with them. At the very least, I could have had some people looking out for me.

I also wish I would have reported him to the company he worked for.

walking around venice
Me as a more confident travel in my 30’s; Photo taken in Venice, Italy

With this second story, though, there is one thing I would not do differently:

For this tour, guests were picked up from their hotels in El Calafate, meaning the creepy guide knew what bed-and-breakfast I was staying at.

I don’t know if I really understood this, or if I just felt safe with my female host to talk, but I told her what had happened.

That night, the creepy guide returned, apparently wasted, asking for me.

Because I’d told my host the story, she put two-and-two together and told him to get lost.

But what if I hadn’t told her, and she’d let him in?

It’s something I don’t like to think about, and I’m grateful I spoke up.

Why I Still Travel Solo As A Female

Despite these stories and others like them, I continue to travel solo and advocate others do, too.

Solo travel has truly made me the person I am today.

It’s helped me realize what I’m truly capable of, and has allowed me to see places I never would have had I waited for others to finally be free to join me.

hiking in Tampa
Me, traveling solo in Tampa, Florida

I can also say that I’ve sadly had worse instances occur in NYC; stories that one day I’ll write in a public forum but I still don’t feel ready to yet.

The truth is, the world is a beautiful yet savage place all at once.

The same places that feature gorgeous landscapes, welcoming shops, and beautiful people are also home to predators.

We need to enjoy the destinations we visit while also looking out for ourselves by traveling with safety gear, researching the places we visit to understand local scams and issues, and always keeping one eye over our shoulders.

I regret blaming myself and questioning my truth, but I’ve also learned from my reactions and try to be gentle with myself. I am only human.

As women, it can sometimes be hard to rock the boat or advocate for ourselves, even when we are the victims.

silenced woman sexual assault stories
Silenced woman via Kat Jayne/Pexels

In fact, research shows that women feel a natural inclination toward doing what it takes to ensure others aren’t uncomfortable, even if it means putting ourselves out in the worst ways. If you find this idea interesting, check out NPR’s Radiolab series “In The No”, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Caring for others is a beautiful thing; but when it means we stop protecting ourselves, it becomes a problem.

But what is incredible about being a woman in 2019 is that we are more open about telling our stories, so we can lift each other up and learn from the experiences being shared.

Knowledge and community are power, both on their own but especially when used together.

Instead of being afraid, we can use this power to fuel our self-assurance, advocate for ourselves and each other, and even travel solo with confidence.

Resources For Women & Sexual Assault Victims:

Whether you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, want to help others who have been, are hoping to empower females or want to travel with other women, the below resources can help.

red telephone sexual assault hotline
Red telephone via Fancycrave.com/Pexels

Sexual Assault Hotline

Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741741 in the USA for free 24/7 crisis support.

RAINN. The USA’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. There are a ton of ways to get help and/or get involved to help others. Their hotline number is 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Female Empowerment Resources

Me Too Movement Offical Page. Share your own personal #MeToo story, find services/resources supporting survivors, and peruse important research and statistics into sexual violence.

Hollaback!. This organization provides online training sessions that equip people to protect their neighbors and community when bigotry and harassment take place.

Girlgaze. This platform connects brands with creative female-identifying individuals. If you’re a female photographer, director or creative — or a brand who wants to work with one — check them out.

Savvy Solo Traveler. My free six-day email course focused on helping people, especially women, feel confident traveling solo.

granada streets
Me, wandering Granada (Spain)

Women-Only Travel Opportunities

Wanderful. An online community of over 15,000 female travelers offering women-only trips, stays, and events.

Safr. A women-only ride-sharing service.

Intrepid Travel’s “Women’s Expeditions” Trips (affiliate link). A range of all-female adventures taking women to Morocco, Iran, Jordan and beyond.

Projects Supporting Women

Female-empowerment gifts. Epicure & Culture has a list of incredible brands creating goods that support women.

Women-empowerment projects. Epicure & Culture has a long list of projects and companies supporting women.

Video Version Of This Post

If you’d prefer to hear the video version of the story, watch below:

Do you have any sexual assault stories to share or a helpful resource to add? 

Bonus Short Travel Stories

Looking for more travel stories? Check out:

25 Crazy Travel Stories You Need To Read To Believe

23 Inspiring Travel Stories Sharing The Kindness Of Strangers

16 Short Funny Travel Stories That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud

38 Inspiring Travel Love Stories From The Road

8 Crazy NYC Subway Stories That Will Make You Hail A Cab

A Host’s Perspective: My Worst Airbnb Horror Stories

11 Epic Travel Fail Stories From The Road

Share this post with others in your community by pinning it for later:

These sexual assault stories from the road raise awareness while adding another voice to the Me Too Movement. Along with my experiences and feelings, the post features my personal tips for coping as well as support resources (like RAINN), hotline numbers and campaigns that support sexual assault & harassment victims through advocacy. // #SexualAssault #MeToo #SexualAssaultStories #TravelSafety #HealingFromSexualAssault

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

I'm a conscious solo traveler on a mission to take you beyond the guidebook to inspire you to live your best life through travel. Come join me!

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14 Comments

  1. Kaeli on at 3:20 am

    Thank you so much for speaking up and telling your stories. I’m so sorry you had to endure those things. I had a creepy experience while traveling solo in Broome, Australia, a few months ago that I wrote about here. https://www.kaelitravels.com/home/2018/8/4/my-metoo-moment-at-a-hostel-in-broome Us gals have to stick together. There are so many dumbasses out there. Very glad you’re okay! *big hugs*

  2. Nicky on at 7:49 am

    Wow – I’m so glad that you’ve led the way in opening up about this, because it’s so vitally important. We should never be discouraged from wanting to travel solo, but we should also be aware that there are risks – but we’re not alone in facing them or gaining support and help, and that we should never feel like we’ve done something to bring it upon ourselves. Opening up like this helps so much, helps fellow women understand and be informed, and you should absolutely be applauded. I’m so sorry for the assaults which you’ve experienced; it made my blood boil reading about them!!
    Thank you also for the resources – I’ll definitely be checking them out! The Intrepid tours sound wonderful!!

  3. sue davies on at 9:51 am

    Thanks for posting. Important post for all–men and women–to read. I travel with my wife and often in countries that we cannot reveal we are gay. It seems to alternate which of us is being hit on and we often don’t feel safe. We rarely go out at night when we travel. We have each other so different from being a solo traveler dealing with sexual assault. Someday, I’ll write a post about traveling as a gay couple in countries where it is illegal to be gay. I’m glad you had Marco for the first instance.

    • Jessie Festa on at 10:16 am

      @Sue: Thank you for this thoughtful comment. One of my best friends is gay, and he’s talked to me about how when he decides where to travel sometimes it’s just really tough because there are places he’d love to see, but he also struggles with the idea of supporting a place that doesn’t accept him. It’s a whole new set of concerns that most people haven’t had to deal with. When you do write that post I’d love to read it (and am happy to share it, too!).

  4. Angelica on at 10:32 am

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I know it’s probably hard to have to relive them and post them, but I think it will really help other women who have been victims of sexual assault feel less alone, and also going forward know what they can do. Also I’m so sorry that these happened to you in the first place! So annoying that they had to ask you if you were sure with the first guy and only really believed you when he admitted! And the second guy is just plain extra creepy!!

    • Jessie Festa on at 10:12 am

      @Angelica: Yea, I think the #metoo movement has been a blessing in that way; that it’s almost normal to share these stories and you don’t have to feel so alone. It’s hard, but powerful. // Thank you for the kind words!

  5. Julie on at 11:53 am

    I’m really glad you wrote this. I also travel solo and have been sexually assaulted while on the road. I also wrote a blog post about it. The interesting thing is the unsupportive reaction I got from other women.

    You mentioned something really interesting that I had just experienced a couple of days ago. You wrote about how the others around you didn’t believe you and how you then started to second guess yourself. This happened to me but it wasn’t even about sexual assault. My male boss and a male maintenance worker didn’t believe me and I then started to second guess myself, and in the end I came out sounding unsure of myself, which made me less credible. I’m 48 and men still make me second guess what I saw, experienced, and felt. So I think it’s something us women do in a lot of areas of their life.

    Anyways, thanks for the post. You’re a really great writer!

    • Jessie Festa on at 10:11 am

      @Julie: Oh no! I’m so sorry your post got an unsupportive reaction. 🙁 That just makes it that much harder to be open. If you ever need to share without judgement, you can always email me ([email protected]).

      And I think it’s almost like that psychological phenomenon where people play the roles they’re put into. It’s like you react to other people’s reactions. I was SO relieved when the guy admitted what he’d done, because I honestly think I would have gone to bed wondering if I had the world’s most overactive imagination.

  6. Lynne on at 12:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. While I have never been assaulted, I certainly have been “undressed with a man’s eyes” or cat called to, making me feel uncomfortable. I truly believe that as women we need to speak up and not put up with shit. But I also think that we need to raise our boys to be men who do not do these things to women. And that other men need to call out other men on their behavior toward women. It’s a work in progress…

  7. Chris on at 5:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experiences Jessie. I had my own experience in India when I was repeatedly touched and had my butt pinched multiple times to only be laughed out when I turned around to tell them off. That was the number one question I got from friends and family about my travels, “Did I feel safe?” And I always answered for the most part yes, but that I can just as easily be assaulted in another country as I would in the U.S.

    I so appreciate your post and honesty on this topic because I know many solo female travelers who have also had these experiences as well.

  8. Caitlin on at 9:53 am

    Thank you so much for sharing Jessie. This is such an important topic to talk about. To make it ok to talk about. Thank you.

  9. Yolanda O'Bannon on at 6:41 pm

    I’m so moved and saddened and at the same time gladdened by this piece — your questioning yourself, the courage to tell the tales on the web, the power that we as women have collectively when we speak up individually. I’ve been molested multiple times traveling (though the most serious experiences I’ve had were in my home town) and have at times wondered if it was just me. No more. Thank you for sharing and for the resources and using your public voice to shine a much needed light.
    xo

  10. Tenzin Norbu on at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for writing such an important topic!
    Thank you!

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