This post is graphic in nature, so please stop reading if you are a blood relative or I have babysat you. Thanks!

So in light of a recent incident here in France, I wanted to write about how to handle creeps both at home and abroad.

In short, last weekend a guy flashed me in the street and it really freaked me out.

It was six in the morning and I was walking home by myself in my safe, wealthy town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Granted it was late (or rather, early) but I was walking on a wide, well-lit, residential avenue, equipped with pepper spray. If you have to walk home alone, it should be like that.

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My extraordinarily wholesome town. Which goes to show you, bad things can happen anywhere.

But, no matter where you are, there are crazy, crazy men. Like this guy, who was standing in his doorway, pants down, staring at me, masturbating.

 

How I reacted:

Once I figured out what was going on I stopped walking, turned to look at him and released several blood-curling screams. I wanted him to know that what he was doing was HIGHLY unwanted and disgusting.

He reacted by putting his fingers to his lips to say, “shush.” Oh, so now you’re considerate, buddy, and don’t want to wake the neighbors?

Then I started sprinting in four-inch heels through the middle of the street. Obviously that’s a bit of a strange reaction, but my theory is that you should always try to out-crazy the crazies, right?

I ran to the main square of the town, which is the area most likely to be well-lit and full of people. And it was- the market vendors were already setting up the Sunday farmers’ market.

I walked into the first open store, the butcher’s shop, and asked them to call me a cab. They said they didn’t have a number and basically did nothing.

Sorry but mini-rant- doesn’t that seem weird not to help a visibly shaken-up girl with tears streaming down her cheeks who comes into your shop saying in broken French that she “saw a naked man on the street” and needs you to call her a cab? What happened to chivalry? Or basic human empathy?

I debated walking home from the main square. I live about 30 minutes on foot, and I decided to either wait until the sun came up or until I saw a cab.

Thirty minutes later I decided that I would just be brave and go alone. MIRACULOUSLY, a few hundred yards out of the main square a guardian angel cab driver picked me up and drove me home.

 

What I didn’t do:

I didn’t call the police. I’m not sure if this was the right choice but as I am a foreigner on a visa I really didn’t want to start legal trouble for myself. I also didn’t know if they would be able to find the creep anyway.

I didn’t tell the family I work for. I’m sure if this was the right choice either, but I didn’t want to worry them. Or explain that I encountered a half-naked, masturbating man on the street.

 

So naturally, I learned a few things from this experience. Namely that I will try not to walk home by myself in the middle of the night- if I go out in Paris I will either stay with a friend or take a cab back home. On that note…

 

Here are some ways to protect yourself when you’re on the road.

Never listen to your iPod at night.

It’s just not a good idea as you won’t be aware of your surroundings.

Carry pepper spray.

Thankfully I had pepper spray on me- it’s not fool-proof but it’s better than nothing. One problem? Pepper spray buried deep in your hand-bag is useless. Make sure to have it ready to go in your pocket.

Always have a cell phone- and know how to call the police.

I have a French cell phone. The only problem is I idiotically do not know how to call the police. (Wikipedia tells me the French emergency number is 17, fyi.)

Scream fire.

I actually learned this one from Adventurous Kate (ironically I read this post the night before this happened) but screaming fire is much smarter than screaming, “help.”

 People hear “help” and don’t want to get involved.  People hear “fire” and are curious.  That curiosity could save your life.

Travel with travel insurance.

I currently have no insurance as I’m not really traveling; and do you know how much it would cost to ensure nine months of living abroad? For my next backpacking adventure I’m going to purchase World Nomad’s insurance to safe-guard any injuries, attacks or misallaneous misfortunes.

 

Other resources for keeping you safe on the road:

Essential Safety Tips for Backpackers

Nomadic Matt – How to Buy Good Travel Insurance

Adventurous Kate – How I Survived a Mugging

Alex in Wanderland – The Hazards of Traveling with a Computer

 

The sad truth I realized?

Despite any illusions of safety, you’re never really safe, especially not as a woman. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel- bad things really do happen everywhere. You could be pick-pocketed on a bus in Argentina just as easily as you could be verbally abused on the subway in Chicago (ahem, I may be speaking from personal experience here.)

So travel, and live, with the knowledge that you can’t predict what will happen, but with the foresight to protect yourself as best you can.

 

Have you ever had a similar experience to mine? How did you react?

Also, this post has nothing to do with the very sad and tragic death of Sarai Sierra. I am a huge supporter of solo female travel and travel alone frequently- I just want women everywhere to be safer and to be aware of potential dangers.

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21, traveled the world for a year and now lives in Denver. She's usually in pursuit of skiing, languages and perfectly ripe cheese. Her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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