Reducing the risk of sexual assault and harassment
Sexual assault and harassment can happen anywhere to anyone. It's never the victim's fault.
Read this page, before you go, to learn about:
This page is for general advice on how to reduce your risk of sexual assault and harassment when travelling. If you're overseas and need help, see our advice what to do if you've been sexually assaulted.
Sexual assault is an act of violence which violates a person's sense of safety and control and can leave them feeling powerless and dishonoured.
Key facts on sexual assault
- It can happen to anyone. Men, women, LGBTI, old or young. The WHO estimates that 35% of women worldwide and 5-10% of men are victims.
- It can happen anywhere, any time. Walking in the street or seemingly in the safety of your own hotel room.
- Anyone can be a perpetrator. It could as easily be a stranger as someone close. This can include friends, family, partners and travelling companions.
Sexual violence and the law
Sexual violence is a crime in Australia, and in many countries around the world.
However, laws vary widely around the world. As does the definition for sexual violence and rape. For example, in some countries:
- marital sexual assault may not be considered rape, even in a forced marriage or child marriage
- rape laws may differ for genders, both victim and perpetrator
- removing a condom without permission during sex can be considered rape
- rape victims can be arrested and jailed for having sex outside of marriage. Reporting it could be seen as an admission of guilt
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour.
The Australian Human Rights Commission provides examples of sexual harassment as:
- staring, leering or unwelcome touching
- suggestive comments or jokes
- unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex
- intrusive questions about a person's private life or body
- unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
- emailing or displaying pornography or rude jokes
- communicating content of a sexual nature through social media or text messages.
As with any form of sexual violence, anyone can be a victim or perpetrator.
Sexual harassment and the law
In Australia, sexual harassment is a crime. The United Nations considers sexual harassment to be a form of sexual violence.
However, be aware that sexual harassment is legal in some countries. In some countries, it is not only legal, but normalised and commonplace.
Avoiding dangerous situations
Before you go, make sure you know what to watch out for. This includes what situations to avoid when exploring, socialising or in transit.
Before you go
Be prepared, before you go. Keep in mind that no one can completely eliminate the risk of sexual assault.
No matter how tough or well prepared you are, perpetrators have ways of overcoming their victims.
- Research your destination. Find out if sexual assault is common or legal there.
- You may want to learn self defence before you go. This can give you physical strategies to help fend off an attacker.
- Consider a sexual assault prevention course. These courses teach men and women verbal strategies to diffuse a situation before it escalates.
Unfortunately, sexual assault is normalised in many countries. This includes the developing world and those impacted by conflict. It also includes many developed countries.
See the WHO's interactive map on sexual violence prevalence in different countries.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable, leave.
- Be cautious of unsolicited invitations from strangers. Especially if they try to separate you from your travelling companions.
- Dressing conservatively can generally help you avoid unwanted attention. This is not just about revealing clothing, it's about anything that locals may consider different.
- Watch for people following you. Especially at night. If you think you're being followed, find somewhere populated and well lit.
- Avoid going into back rooms of shops where you can't see the street.
- Avoid walking alone or through poorly lit areas at night. If you head out, always take someone with you.
- Only use licensed taxis. Refuse offers from drivers who approach you.
- If a bartender makes your cocktail or mixer out of sight, refuse it. You won't know what's in it. Only accept a drink you've watched them make, start to finish.
- Reduce the risk of drink spiking. Don't leave your drink unattended, especially in bars or public spaces.
- Stay in control when drinking. Don't use drugs. You need to have your wits about you while travelling. It's easier for a perpetrator to target and overcome you when disorientated.
- Be cautious if leaving a venue with someone you've just met. Even if it's just as friends. You're more vulnerable when separated from people you know.
In transit or in your accommodation
- If any doors or windows to your accommodation are broken, do not enter. Instead contact the police.
- Sit up the front, near the driver, on buses and coaches.
- If travelling overnight on a train, boat or bus, choose a seat or berth that offers more protection from perpetrators.
- Read the 'safety and laws' section of the travel advisory for your destinations.
- See our advice on what do if you're a victim of sexual assault overseas.
- Understand how and when we can help. Read the Consular Service Charter.
- Sexual violence is a global issue. See the WHO's interactive map on sexual violence prevalence in different countries (The WHO).
- Read more about sexual assault while travelling (Government of Canada).
- Learn more about sexual harassment (Australian Human Rights Commission).
- Learn more about sexual violence as a major health and welfare issue (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
No matter who you are, where you're going and what you're doing, get travel insurance. Learn how to choose a policy that's right for you.
Each year, more Aussie school leavers go overseas to celebrate the end of their studies. Our tips will help keep you safe.