I travel alone.
I, a woman, a daughter, a sister, a partner – I travel alone. I travel alone because I can. I travel alone because I come from a free and beautiful country that gives me the freedom to travel around the world alone. I don’t have to be accompanied by a man, or by anyone at all. Not all women are so free as to have this privilege, I know. Which is why I so passionately, so gratefully travel solo: I have an opportunity that so many women in the world are denied.
When I told my friends and family I was setting out on this long journey to travel the world alone, they were supportive, excited and of course, a little worried. But they knew I was a strong, smart woman. Others who didn’t know me so well weren’t so sure. In fact, the only thing they were sure of was that I was going to be assaulted, or murdered, or robbed, or raped. Or all of these things. Yes, people said these things to my face. “You’re going alone? To those countries? That’s so dangerous and reckless of you, what must your father think?”.
To which I sadly smiled and asked them, ‘Do you know how many people are victims in our little hometown of all of those atrocities each year? How many people are victims of these injustices in Canada each year? Home can be just as dangerous as abroad. I just have to travel smart and safe”.
The dangers facing women are everywhere, not just countries other than our own. The ‘concern’ of these acquaintances of mine merely conveyed to me that they thought I was helpless, stupid, and unable to care for myself – all because I was a woman. If I had been a man, or if I had told them I was travelling with a male partner, I never would have heard any of these ‘concerns’. This was frustrating for me, it’s frustrating for all women who set out to travel solo, but we deal with it. And sure as hell don’t let it stop us.
The thing is, people fear the unknown. They hear only the terrible things about these beautiful countries (because that is all the media cares about, that is all that sells), and they assume the worst. There are dangers everywhere in the world, even in your own backyard (seriously, we have bears in our backyards in my hometown!), but there are also beautiful things – warm and welcoming people, breathtaking nature, and eye opening culture. I choose not to judge a place by a few isolated bad people. I choose not to boycott a place because of the negativity the media focuses on. I choose not to let a few bad things stop me from travelling to see the enduring beauty in world.
But of course, sometimes when we travel bad things do happen (I was unknowingly robbed in Ecuador – read about that experience here). Sometimes it happens to men, sometimes it happens to women, sometimes it happens to groups of people. But ONLY when it happens to women do we see this damn victim blaming come about.
‘Oh well she shouldn’t have been travelling alone’.
‘She should have gone with a man’.
‘She shouldn’t have been out late drinking’.
‘She should have covered up’.
And on and on and on.
Like it is somehow a woman’s fault when a man rapes her. Like it is somehow a women’s fault when that man bashes her skull in when she fights back. Like it is somehow a women’s fault when that man kills her and throws her body in a garbage bag on the side of the road. Because, you know, she was travelling alone. She was out late. She was asking for it with that short skirt. Therefore, as simple(ton) logic would have it, she is at fault.
If you haven’t heard the tragic news yet, two young Argentinian women were travelling in Montañita, Ecuador, a little surf town on the coast of the country. Having run out of money, two local men offered to let them stay with them. Those men then proceeded to sexually assault and murder those girls and toss their bodies on the side of a road in a bag when they were done. And in the midst of this absolutely horrific tragedy, comes the inhumanity of people blaming these girls for their own murder.
This. is. so. fucked. up.
And I am so sick of it. All women are sick of it. It needs to stop. Victims are NEVER to be blamed. If this had been two men, the idea of blaming them for their own murder would never have even surfaced. It never would have even had the chance to form into an idea. It would have been laughed at as ludicrous and downright nonsensical to suggest such a thing. Why? Because men can travel through this world, both geographically and figuratively without having to worry about if what they wear, what time they are out until, or if they are alone could be the reason they get blamed for their own murder. Women are not granted such a luxury. We are ever on our guard.
“But why would these girls agree to stay with a stranger?”.
“If only they hadn’t been drunk”
No. No. No.
There isn’t a single argument that ANYONE can come up with that can lay even the smallest amount of blame on these girls. They were assaulted and murdered in cold blood. I don’t care if they were running around naked, drunk and high- they did nothing to deserve this. It’s absolutely appalling that anyone could think to turn the dialogue about sexual assault and murder into blame against the victims. To turn the dialogue to be about how women shouldn’t travel alone. This thought pattern needs to be stopped in it’s tracks. Women should have every same freedom as men to safely travel. The shitty thing is these girls weren’t even alone. They were together. But because they didn’t have a man with them, everyone considers them to still have been travelling ‘alone’ and unprotected. The shittier thing is that women are always at a much higher risk of violence when travelling alone than men. And until that statistic changes, we can never feel safe as we explore the world solo. We must ever be on our guard. And even when on guard, barbaric violence such as this can still happen far too easily. THIS is the issue we need to tackle as humanity: equality and safety for all human beings, and the end of violence perpetrated against women.
Guadalupe Acosta wrote a haunting and compelling tribute to the girls, using the voice of the deceased, which exploits the absurdity of victim blaming women for their own assault and murder (translated from Spanish):
“From the moment they had my dead body, nobody wondered where the bastard was.
No, rather they started asking me useless questions.
To me, can you imagine? A dead woman who cannot speak, who cannot defend herself.
What clothes did you have?
Why were you alone?
How could a woman travel alone?
You went into a dangerous neighbourhood. What did you expect?
They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent.”
She ended it with this incredibly powerful promise:
“I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other women ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.”
Yes, sometimes bad things happen when we travel. But bad things can happen at home too. Just recently a once prominent man in Canada was acquitted of four charges of sexual assault and battery when the evidence he was guilty was overwhelming (once again the victims were blamed for their own assault). I have been the victim of sexual assault in my home town, by someone I still see walking the streets. But because I was drunk, I am taught that it wasn’t rape at all. That it was my fault. I have friends who have been raped and have their rapists too, walk the streets. There was a stabbing in my home town just a couple of weeks ago. You cannot crucify a place because bad things happen there, because there is danger, because a few bad people do a few atrocious things. For every bad thing I promise you will find 100 beautiful things. Travel is a beautiful, empowering thing, a privilege that we are not all so lucky to be afforded. Marina and Maria knew the beauty, the excitement of travel, which is why they were out exploring the world. Surely they would tell us that it was not the fault of Montańita, or of travel, or of solo female travel, or of themselves least of all – the only fault lies in the hands of the those murderous bastards.
I spent a total of five weeks in Montañita, Ecuador, and I absolutely adore that place. I was robbed in central Ecuador, and I still love that place. Yes some terrible things have happened there, to those girls, to me, to others. Yet I had so many amazing experiences, and met so many beautiful souls there, that I often tell people it’s one of my favourite places in all Latin America. When you travel anywhere, you have to be as safe as possible, especially as a woman. But the sad truth is that no matter how careful you are, terrible things can still happen. But should that possibility be enough to stop us from ever leaving home to explore? No. What we need to take away from this more than anything is that the victims are never to blame. The place is not to blame. It is only the people who commit the vicious and inhumane crimes who are the ones to blame. We need to work at making the world a safer place for everyone to live and travel, we need to work desperately, tirelessly to end inequality between men and women so that women can stop living in fear of men. We need to shift the dialogue from blaming the victim to blaming the culprit. We need to make these changes so that all humans can walk freely and safely through this beautiful world of ours.
I am writing this post in remembrance of the innocent lives of María José Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21 – two young wonderlusting souls that were cruelly and inhumanely taken from us.
Remember Maria and Marina. Remember them as victims. But more than that, remember them as young women who were brave and adventurous, out to travel solo and see some of the world, seizing an opportunity so many women in the world are denied. Do not condemn them, the victims. Do not condemn solo female travel for this tragedy. Do no condemn Montañita. Condemn the only ones guilty – the murderers.