The #metoo movement, initially founded by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago and made famous by actress Alyssa Milano, has caused men and women around the world to take a more in-depth look at sexual harassment and assault.
Accusations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men have roiled the entertainment, journalism, and technology industries. Congress saw three lawmakers resign or retire in one week in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against them. There have been calls for others to resign.
As a traveler, I’m aware that women are not immune to physical and sexual violence in transit and overseas. There have been chilling reports of young girls groped on airplanes and women who said they were raped abroad by police officers. Attempts to stay safe by doing research and reading reviews aren’t foolproof, either. Review company TripAdvisor came under fire in November for reportedly deleting negative reviews from its website that detailed a rape at a Mexican resort.
Being a black woman means to continually be aware of your body and how your body is perceived in different spaces. That is true for me in the U.S. and when I travel abroad. People have asked me before if I feel “free” when I’m traveling. The answer is a resounding no. If anything, I am more aware of my body and who is looking at it.
There are numerous instances of documented incidents of black women harassed abroad and an even longer, painful history of foreigners sexualizing black women. I am conscious of this wherever I go.
Unlike the men in Hollywood and news and tech, there’s no way to out the countless number of nameless, faceless men who have sexually harassed me overseas, or, at a minimum, made me feel uncomfortable in their presence.
There’s nothing I can do about or to the men who touched my body and my hair, who cat-called me in the streets, who made creepy comments during Uber rides, who assumed that I was a prostitute because of my black skin. I was too afraid to speak up then.
And as uncomfortable as it is to write, I am unsure if I will have the strength to speak up the next time it happens to me. I am bold when I see it happening to other women, but I’ve remained quiet in the face of my own abuse. I’ve stayed silent while considering whether to escalate an incident for fear of retaliation of not being believed.
I won’t stop traveling the world. I won’t stop meeting people and learning new languages and experiencing different cultures. But after the #metoo conversation, what comes next? How do we stay safe at home and overseas?