How I Healed After Being Assaulted While Travelling

How I Healed After Being Sexually Assaulted While Travelling

This post has been a long time coming, but it wasn’t until today that I actually built up the courage to write about it. Why today? I have absolutely no idea. I was actually planning on writing an entirely different blog post (which I have planned out already) but then I thought, why not write about this instead.

There are a few main reasons for this post. One is that I need to write it. My friends and my parents are aware of the incident, but I have never truly written about what happened. Writing about bad experiences can be truly healing, and I hope that this helps me on my journey. The second reason is that I want everyone else out there who has experienced something similar to know that they are not alone.

The events in question actually happened quite a while ago.

After travelling from Glasgow to Paris, I would have a few hours to explore the city before heading to the airport to catch my flight to the Seychelles.

None of this went to plan.

The Plan

Some of you may know that in September 2016 I was supposed to travel to the Seychelles and Mumbai. I had booked an error fare from Paris that would give me a day-long layover in the Seychelles and then a week in Mumbai. Not a long time, but the tickets were insanely cheap (I paid €190!) and I was super excited about it.

I was travelling from Glasgow (where I had been staying with a friend) and was taking an overnight Megabus from Glasgow Buchanan Street to London, before then taking a National Express coach from London to Paris.

How I Healed After Being Sexually Assaulted While Travelling

What happened?

I actually almost missed my Megabus to London. In hindsight, I wish I had. The bus was just pulling out of the bay to leave when I ran to it, but the driver stopped and let me on. The lights were all off and I just took the first available seat I could find. It was at a four-person table and there were two guys sat there already.

I’m not going to detail what happened. I don’t feel comfortable discussing the details of the incident publicly and I hope that everyone reading will understand why.

Without elaborating further, the man sat opposite me at the table sexually assaulted me while everyone else was sleeping.

I’m proud of how my instincts reacted. You never really know how you will react in that situation until it happens to you. I hate it when I see comments like, “Why didn’t you do such-and-such?” or “I would have done XYZ!” This doesn’t help. You don’t know whether fight, flight or freeze will win in that situation.

For me, it was a combination of fight and flight, in a way. But for a few seconds, it was freeze. I was so shocked. But then, I jumped out of my seat and screamed at him “DON’T TOUCH ME!”

Well, after that scream, no one was sleeping on the coach any longer.

I fell over as I jumped up and tried to get away. Now I look back on it, it’s almost comical because I fell right into the stairs and landed flat on my ass. If that had happened at any other time and not because of the incident, it would have been funny.

 

Some people are amazing

After I jumped up and tried to get away, I went straight to the front of the bus. I was crying and slightly hysterical and the second bus driver (the drive was nine hours so they had two – one slept while the other drove) immediately cleared the seat beside me and let me sit there until I was calm enough to actually say what had happened.

He didn’t press me to explain why I had screamed, just waited patiently until I was able to speak coherently. I then explained – through tears – what had happened. He listened and only spoke when I had finished, asking me to explain to him which man was the perpetrator. He asked if I wanted them to call the police, but I said I didn’t know.

My thoughts were going crazy – was it serious enough to call the police about? Would I then miss my coach to Paris? 

Luckily, the two drivers decided that they had to call the police. From what I had said, they felt they couldn’t maintain their duty of care towards the passengers if there was someone on the coach who had done something like that and could maybe even do it again to another person.

I would really like to thank the two drivers on this coach. They were so supportive and so non-judgemental. While we were driving to where we would meet the police, the second driver just chatted with me to keep my mind off of what had just happened. We talked about the places I had just been travelling to and what I had done in Glasgow, and also where I was from and what I did.

We met the police in Preston, the closest place we could stop. The standby driver had called them and they were already waiting to meet us there. The driver disembarked to explain the situation fully, and then I got off to give my statement. There were two police cars and about six police, one of them a woman. I spoke to two policemen, giving my story of the events and answering their questions.

Explaining where I had travelled from, where I was going and where I was from was complex as usual, and, apparently, I am ‘one of the most interesting people [they] have had to take a statement from’. That conversation went something like the following:

Policeman: So you came from Glasgow?

Me: Yes

Policeman: Do you live there?

Me: No, I was staying with a friend. I flew in to Edinburgh but everywhere was booked.

Policeman: Oh, did you have an event in Edinburgh?

Me: No, I flew there from Gothenburg. It was the cheapest UK city to fly to last-minute.

Policeman: You live in Sweden?

Me: No, I live in the UK. I just was in Gothenburg for a while. It was cheaper to fly to New York from Gothenburg.

Policeman: What were you doing in New York?

Me: Just on holiday with my parents. It was great, we spent a week and a half in New York and then flew back to Gothenburg via two days in Iceland.

Policeman: That’s a pretty crazy journey! Are you going all the way to London?

Me: Yeah, I need to catch another coach in London.

Policeman: Where in the UK do you live?

Me: Usually Hampshire. Unless I’m at university. Then in Bath.

Policeman: Oh so back home now?

Me: Oh, no. I have to get a coach to Paris. I’m flying out of Paris.

Policeman: Where to this time?!

Me: I’m flying to Mumbai via the Seychelles. Only for a week though.

Policeman: *stares at me like I’m a crazy person*

 

Since I didn’t want to give a statement (I would then miss my onward journey and have to return to Preston for a court date to testify against him), they couldn’t arrest him or charge him with anything. However, it was decided that he was not allowed to stay on the coach. I feel karma smacked him in the face right here, since it was 4am and he was an hour’s walk away from the near coach station or train station. I was also able to get some sleep on the bus without worrying that he might try something again.

How I Healed After Being Sexually Assaulted While Travelling

My trip was a total clusterf@*k

Apparently, this just wasn’t the trip for me. My bad luck continued with:

  • About an hour away from London, the coach broke down. We had to wait an hour for a replacement coach and I only just managed to catch my bus to Paris.
  • I spent about an hour at Paris Gare de Lyon trying to find an ATM so I could use cash to pay for the luggage locker. Apparently, Gare de Lyon only has TWO ATMs in the entire station and they are only easily found if you come through one particular entrance.
  • I was harassed and detained by a Métro employee as my ticket was apparently invalid (it had gone over the time limit printed in small text on the back of the ticket), but I was unaware as it had let me through an electronic barrier about ten minutes prior to that.
  • After finally paying a fine so he wouldn’t call the police, I rushed to get the train back to Gare de Lyon to collect my luggage and head to the airport. The trains were delayed to get to Charles de Gaulle, delaying me even further.
  • I arrived at the airport one hour before my flight was to depart. However, this meant that check-in was closed and I had hold luggage. It turns out that Air Seychelles does not have a permanent counter at Paris CDG and therefore I would have to call them and speak to customer service.
  • I called them. Customer service was closed.
  • I went to another information counter closer to where I was (I had gone to get coffee and food while making my phone calls) and asked the woman for help. She shouted at me that she was busy and couldn’t help.
  • I then called World Nomads, who I had my travel insurance with. I called the ’emergency assistance’ helpline but was then told they couldn’t help as it was for emergency medical assistance only.
  • I was in the airport when my flight left – I just couldn’t get airside. That was irritating. So close and yet so far, guys.
  • There were no affordable hotels or hostels available for the night, so I stayed overnight in the airport.
  • Once the Air Seychelles helpline opened in the morning (around 12 hours later), I called them again. They told me they couldn’t help and that I needed to call the OTA (BudgetAir) I booked through instead.
  • I then called the BudgetAir, who said that I was calling the incorrect number and therefore they would have the right people call me back ‘within a few hours’. This was in September.
  • I called the UK World Nomads line (the non-emergency one), but was unable to get through to an actual human. I was given many ‘press X for such-and-such’ options, none of which matched my actual problem.
  • Instead of having a solution or some help from World Nomads, I received no assistance. Instead of rebooking my flights and/or getting Air Seychelles and SNCF to admit wrongdoing, I got a coach home all the way from Paris to Fareham. As the icing on the cake, both my Paris – London and London – Fareham coaches were delayed.

I think back to this trip and I am seriously amazed by quite how badly it went. SO MUCH went wrong!

And yet I still travel. Since this fiasco, I have been to Málaga, Galway, Dublin, Belfast and Prague, and have also moved to Berlin. This has affected me, but I will not let it take over my life. I am much more paranoid than I used to be and I find it hard to walk alone at night, but I refuse to let this incident define me and ruin my travel.

How I Healed After Being Sexually Assaulted While Travelling

So how can you recover from an assault and still have the courage to travel?

1) Remember it was not your fault

I refuse to let someone else force me to change. I did not deserve this. Sometimes my mind goes back to that incident and I think, “was it something I did? Was it how I was dressed?”

NO.

Victim blaming is a horrible, and yet so common, problem. Healing from a sexual assault (or any assault at all) is hard enough as it is, let alone if people don’t believe you or try to come up with reasons about why it happened.

Why did it happen? Because the perpetrator is a pervert. Because they are a rapist. THAT is why. It does not matter what you were wearing or even if you knew them already and had been sexually active with them before.

No one is to blame except the attacker.

2) Report it

Report the crime, if you can. You can also contact a sexual assault hotline and, if you aren’t in your own country, you can contact your embassy or consulate.

For US citizens abroad, you can find more information here and UK citizens abroad can find more information here

3) Tell someone

Talk to someone about it. This could be a friend or a family member. It may be hard to speak openly about it with them, but it will help. Trying to do it alone is hard and having someone there to help you through it can make a huge difference.

A few people who I turned to support me from afar, including Ava who reminded me to not neglect self-care, and recently wrote an article about her own experience with a different kind of assault when she was mugged at knife point in Bogotá.

4) Accept that it takes time to heal

I still get frustrated when I get flashbacks and when I panic that something similar might happen. I admonish myself for overreacting and for being silly. However, we need to accept the fact that it takes time to heal and recover from something like sexual assault – being physically okay doesn’t necessarily mean that we are emotionally okay.

It’s okay to cry about it. It’s okay if you pull your coat tighter around you when you walk near someone who reminds you of your attacker. It will get better and it does get better.

A few months ago I couldn’t write about my assault without getting angry and upset. Now I can write about it calmly and with a cool head. It took time, but it’s getting easier.

5) Express your feelings

Whether you express your emotions through writing (like me), through yoga and meditation or through going to the gym and working out your hurt and anger, then use these healthy strategies to help yourself process your emotions and to help the healing process.

As long as you process your emotions in a healthy way then this can be an effective strategy for recovery.

 

I hope that you will never have to use these strategies for healing after an assault, but if you have been affected by anything mentioned in this article then please feel free to get in touch or alternatively you can seek professional therapy online or in your local area.

Do you have any other advice for fellow travellers about recovering from assault? Share them in the comments. Don’t forget to pin this article if you found it helpful:

How I Healed After Being Sexually Assaulted While Travelling and how you can get help abroad if you are the victim of an assault

 

You Might Also Like

7 Comments

  • Reply
    Steph
    February 12, 2017 at 5:01 am

    I’m sorry you experienced that but sharing your story is so powerful. It helps other women become more aware of how they can help protect themselves from similar situations and what to do when in such a predicament.

  • Reply
    Eva Casey
    February 12, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Sending you SO MUCH LOVE, Penelope. It was so brave and must have been very difficult to write about your experience here, but I know that in writing it down and sharing it you will heal yourself a little more and allow the collective of people around the world who have gone through similar experiences to heal. Personally I can definitely relate, though my assault was not sexual, but rather I was mugged at gunpoint in my apartment building. Many people in my life were kind to me, but some did suggest that “maybe I should have done this or that, etc” and even inside I felt that I “should have” handled the situation differently. But truly you never know how you will react until you are in the moment. And every reaction is okay and valid. I still struggle with feeling safe, but what you said about it being okay to take care of yourself is SO TRUE. Don’t ever feel silly/ashamed for having to care for yourself first. It’s necessary when you’ve been through a trauma. Again, really proud and in awe of you for sharing your experience <3

  • Reply
    LC
    February 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

    It sucks that we have this threat hanging over us as women, not only when we travel but in our day to day lives. And I’m really sorry it happened to you. Thanks for writing about it… I’m in awe with the way you dealt with this situation (and was upset to learn that it was one of many terrible things that happened to you that day!).

    • Reply
      Penelope
      February 12, 2017 at 10:35 pm

      I think the thing that really got me with this experience was that it was in my HOME country – people always say to be careful when travelling (and have highlighted certain countries to be really careful in, and have asked my mum if she was worried about me when I was in ‘dangerous’ countries like Honduras or South Africa) and yet this has made it so much more obvious that it isn’t travel that’s the issue. People like this are everywhere – even in the countries we regard as ‘safe’.

      And yes, that day really did suck… I definitely cried a lot (not helped by lack of sleep) and was so thankful when I finally got back home to my parents’ house. But what did I do then? Booked a trip for the next week to go to Spain! I needed sun, haha.

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Reply
    Susanna
    February 13, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s so brave to come out and write about this. I agree writing can often lead to healing. I hope this is a string in a strong healing process for you. I’m so glad the bus drivers handled this well. That would have made the difference! I’m glad to see you’ll still be traveling. hang in there!

  • Reply
    Delphine
    June 13, 2017 at 12:57 am

    What an awful experience… But you’ve obviously come out of it and will keep on travelling… Well done on your bravery…

  • Reply
    Lyndsy
    July 21, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “posts!” in “comment_content” *]
    Hey Penelope! This is crazy. 🙁 I’m so sorry this has happened. But, you are so brave to share these to others. KEEP TRAVELLING! <3 I love your photos and posts! Sending you love. xoxo

  • Leave a Reply

    CommentLuv badge