American women are increasingly traveling all corners of the globe. Their destinations range from the unusual and exotic to more common destinations for American travelers, such as Europe. Europe is often painted as an ideal international travel destination—due to the fact that relatively few communication barriers exist, cultural differences are manageable, and European countries generally espouse similar societal principles and values as the US (i.e. freedom, democracy, tolerance, etc.). Furthermore, most prime European travel destinations enjoy generally positive reputations in terms of safety, security, and openness—including for female visitors and residents. Despite these popular conceptions and narratives, violence against women in Europe—like so many other places in the world—is a keen reality.
Here we address several issues of which women should be mindful—
both at home, and especially while traveling abroad.
A 2014 study from the European Union found that an estimated 17 million women have experienced sexual violence. One in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15—and one in 20 have been raped since age 15. Women traveling alone face heightened risk. A 2013 United Kingdom Study found that women between the ages of 16 and 19 (age group for students studying abroad) were at a high risk of sexual assault, particularly if they were alone. Rates were also higher for individuals that frequented pubs once a week, while those who visited nightclubs were the most likely to experience sexual violence.
Deeply problematic attitudes toward women can persist virtually anywhere. Europe today is more a cultural and attitudinal “mosaic” than “melting pot.”
As the world becomes “smaller,” more connected, and truly globalized, it is worth remembering that our world is not a melting pot but rather an ethnic, religious, and cultural mosaic. Global mobility and increased migration is not necessarily followed by cultural and attitudinal assimilation. In today’s day-and-age, people are more mobile than ever. As an example, in Europe both legal and illegal immigration brings droves of people to the Continent in hopes of a better life. The 2015 United Nations International Migration report found that high-income European countries, like Germany, receive some of the highest numbers of migrants and refugees in the world. More than 76 million migrants live in Europe today, with 81% of these migrants relocating to high-income countries.
Migration patterns impacting Europe, stem from a variety of countries—including some with horrific safety records toward women and longstanding patterns of human rights abuses.
While immigrants contribute positively and significantly to society in many ways, including
economically, their presence also creates cultural and attitudinal complexity—which has both positive and potentially negative effects. It is critical to remember that, in some not-so-distant corners of the world, women and men are not even allowed to interact with one another; women are subjugated to customs that mutilate their bodies; death can be a consequent of shame; rape is common; and prosecution of perpetrators is weak.
All women should take into consideration the powerful and shocking research from the WomanStats Project, which finds that women lack (or have low levels of) physical security in the vast majority of countries in the world. While women tend to have moderate to fairly high levels of physical security throughout most of Europe, countries will continue to be impacted by immigrants originating from countries where women lack physical security. [See map below.]
As people migrate, they carry with them a set of perspectives, beliefs, values, and experiences that do not immediately change once they settle into a new country that will become their home. One would expect this to be true in societies where migrants settle in culturally isolated enclaves or ex-pat communities and continue to follow their distinct cultural practices, attitudes, and foundational belief systems. European nations are not homogenous entities with consistent cultures, attitudes, and values. Instead, they play host to a variety of cultures, religions, attitudinal clusters, and ethnic enclaves.
American women travel the world confidently, and empowered by the equality, legal protections, and societal norms they have grown accustomed to at home. But preparing for global travel requires more than a plane ticket and a dream. In many countries around the world, little progress has been made when it comes to human rights and gender equality. Risks and threats to women around the world—and the harmful attitudes and behaviors behind them—can impact women everywhere. Travelers are wise to invest in a pre-trip security assessment that includes local attitudes toward women, and local laws as they pertain to protecting female victims of assault. Furthermore, all travelers (and particularly women) should remain cautious at all times while traveling—even to major European destinations with values and laws similar to the US. The fact is that we live in a globalized yet unassimilated world. Women on the whole (worldwide) are still exceedingly vulnerable to rape and assault; and this vulnerability threatens women everywhere.
Understanding where women’s safety and security lies comes with knowledge of customs and culture. Female travelers’ safety depends on what they know, and how to use their knowledge as they navigate the world.
Carrie Knori Pasquarello CEO of Global Secure Resources Inc. an International Corporation dedicated to risk mitigation and threat assessment planning. She has spent more than a decade in a Diplomatic capacity working and living abroad in Europe and Asia. Served with the US Department of State. Trained victim advocate in trauma, recovery and crisis counseling.
Global Secure Resources Inc.
Jennifer Surface is Founder and Principal of Vantage Intelligence – providing risk consulting, investigative services, and international threat and cultural intelligence analysis for global travelers. She is a former US Government Intelligence Analyst, holding a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University, and a Master of Science of Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University.