Dealing with Flashers and Other Creeps on the Road

 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 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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33 Comments

  1. Holy crap that’s scary! You did the right thing! I would have run the other way too! Men are disgusting!

    Great post!
    Liz recently posted..How Blogging Saved MeMy Profile

    Reply
    • I felt bad putting “crazy, crazy men” but I can’t even partially shoulder the blame on women- they would really never do something like this. So scary!

  2. I’m SO sorry that happened to you. It even angers me having only read about it.

    Just my opinion/advice:

    It can be hard to think in a panic situation but sometimes trying to out-crazy the crazies can make things escalate.

    Call the police. Yes, it is embarassing, do not worry about transaltion, most police departments have someone who can speak English and will help you. Remember, you can still report it.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Shaun, that means a lot- it’s good to know there is at least one gentleman out there! And if it happens again (God forbid) I will absolutely call the police.

  3. I always think of my town as SUPER safe and it really is. I am never scared. At 4 am one morning I saw a masturbator, too. It was on a very public street outside a popular park. Thank goodness I had a little liquid courage and yelled at him “What the f*ck are you doing? I’m going to call the police” – I think I scared him because he immediately pulled up his pants and hopped on his bike and rode after me (not ok) saying sorry over and over and over to which I told him in German to repeatedly go away. I didn’t call the cops either, but I would have if I saw him again (one of my friends had seen the same guy). It really was disgusting. Sorry about your encounter!
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..a nostalgic fat tuesday.My Profile

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    • Haha I love that, “a masturbator.” WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Ugh, so creepy. And I’m glad you got away from him safely- may that happen to neither of us ever again!

  4. The Butcher shop guy? What a dick.

    Reply
    • Right? I found that to be really unsettling that they did absolutely nothing…

  5. I’m so sorry for what happened to you and I’m glad you’re safe. I do agree, though, that this shouldn’t be discouraging to those considering solo female travel. The only time something physical ever happened to me while traveling alone was when I was in Prague and a drunk guy started tapping my butt with a stick. Even though I was furious I just smiled and politely pushed the stick away and gave him a “No no!” gesture. He immediately stopped and I went on with my way. Mind you, it was the middle of the day on a crowded street so that lessened the threat of the guy. But regardless, this could have happened in Europe or America so I’m not letting it prevent me from traveling :]
    Aryn recently posted..The Picturesque Streets of MilanMy Profile

    Reply
    • Right, that’s true- what happened to me could absolutely have happened in the U.S. I’m just grateful nothing really serious happened!

  6. It is one thing to read about someone’s mishaps, but like you, to actually experience creeps and abusers. This world is full of those kinds of individuals, but thank goodness we still have more good people than bad. I am so glad you are safe and taking precautions. Being prepared is a wonderful thing, and sometimes you don[‘t even realize you aren’t until something wakes you up. It is shcoking to me how few people are willing to help others!

    I love you my daring grand girl. Please take all precautions, and I’m glad you are trying to help others.

    My love, Gamma

    Reply
    • I agree that we have much more good people than bad, and I’m so happy that’s the case! I love you too Gamma and will give you a call soon. And please don’t worry, I’m fine! Love, Ashley

    • All I can say is that it was certainly not funny at the time!

  7. I totally agree about out-crazying the crazies! But usually I only pull those tricks out when I feel like I’m in immediate danger. Like one time in Paris I saw a man a few train seats away… er… “pleasuring” himself. Or another time there was a man walking down the street hanging out of his pants… blech. I feel like in those situations, it was best just to walk away. But on two different occasions I did have a strange man smack my butt (while I was wearing absolutely nothing provocative). I’m more of a “flight” than “fight” kinda girl, but no matter how you react, it is definitely enough to shake you out of a little safety bubble. Glad he wasn’t aggressive!
    p.s. Why-oh-why isn’t there a word in French for “creeper”… only thing close is “un dragueur” but that doesn’t do the creepiness justice.

    Reply
    • Oh my god, that’s horrifying! I hope to never see that in Paris, knock on wood (absolutely NO pun intended, haha.)

  8. “Out-crazy the crazies” was the exact advice I received from a self-defense teacher a few years ago. I remember him saying that if we ever felt like someone was following us, to turn around and scream “Why are you following me?!” No body wants to deal with you if you seem angry and insane. If that doesn’t work, keys in the eyes is a good back-up plan. Glad you’re ok!
    Jessica recently posted..Sunday Snapshot: Horses in Gili TrawanganMy Profile

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    • I like the keys in the eyes idea! Sometimes I grab a beer bottle I find in the street and hang onto it until I get home… I guess all my awkward paranoid quirks are finally payign off, ha.

  9. Sorry to hear of the shocking incident. Sadly I hear that it is quite common in France. My mother was flashed in Paris.

    I agree that you should of called the police. Our HSE guy at work tells us that 911 will call the police/emergency no matter which country you are in. We just have different numbers referred to locally but 911 should still work.

    I do wonder though, if you said the guy was in his doorway then the police should be able to find the house if you recognised it? Considering your eyes weren’t drawn elsewhere to avoid taking in the appearance of the house.

    I know of girls who’ve told me of similar experiences whilst in Saudi Arabia, yet somehow I think going to the police there will not help.
    The Guy recently posted..Why Do We Ski?My Profile

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    • That’s so awful it happened to your mother too, who are these crazy men? Ew. And I should probably give the cops a call but it honestly will probably just be a hassle where nothing gets solved… will consider it though.

  10. This is so disgusting! So sorry you had to go through this!
    When I was 14 I spent an afternoon on a German beach with a few girlfriends and this old guy (like 60) put his blanket next to us. And then he purposely positioned himself so we could see his “extremities” falling out of his trunks. We were totally shocked and ran away, sat down somewhere else – and he had the nerve to follow us and do it all over again! He only stopped following us around when we told a family and joined them. Seriously, we were only kids! What’s wrong with men?!
    Julika recently posted..Picturesque Monday: The Windows of St. Vitus Cathedral in PragueMy Profile

    Reply
    • Ew, that’s so disturbing, especially because you were only 14! I actually had a similar experience to that in Italy- when I was 17 my friend and I went to a beach that our guidebook said was “free” but it ended up being a nude beach with almost only men. One guy kept moving his towel around to wherever we were and then would proceed to masturbate right next to us! Do these guys actually think that they’re attractive or something? Vom.

  11. Sorry this had to happened to you, but as a result you have left us all with some really, really, really sound and sensible advice.

    I had a very similar situation when I went for a jog in the evening with my iPod (big mistake!). And without my sense of hearing I couldn’t tell that a man was following me until it was too late. Although, like you, I still had the unfortunate sight of seeing him masturbate, I felt really lucky that my instincts to scream and run got me out of the situation. (The thing that surprised me the most after retelling the story to a friend of mine who is a police officer, is that she found it rather amusing. Since when did a man masturbating in front of a lone woman stop becoming predatory behaviour??)

    Needless to say that guy in the butchers ought to be ashamed of himself. And I’m really pleased to read you raising the awareness that people shouldn’t use their iPod at night!

    Unfortunately, pepper spray is illegal in the UK, so this helps put more power in the hands of criminals…
    Shing recently posted..Comment on Getting to know Łódź through its street art by adminMy Profile

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    • I’m so glad you found the advice useful! And that’s awful that you’re not allowed to buy pepper spray in the UK it honestly makes me feel a lot safer (I’m not sure that’s totally rational but oh well.) And I’m glad you handled the situation well and you’re okay now :)

  12. What a horrible story! I haven’t had quite as graphic of an experience, but when I studied in Italy, it was really difficult to avoid attention in the streets. I usually would just pretend to be on my phone. It seems like people don’t want to bother someone on their phone. I just had a bad experience in Louisville, Kentucky. I was actually walking with another person just five blocks and encountered so many sketch characters. In reality, we should have just taken a cab to avoid the worry.
    Suzy recently posted..The Sicilian Love StoryMy Profile

    Reply
    • Oh, no! I guess it just goes to show you that men are just creeps everywhere. And the phone trick is a good idea.

  13. Ahhh I hate when things like this happen! I came across a man masturbating in a park in Florence. In the middle of the day. It was so creepy and I had to like run away.

    Good on you for being safe!
    Amanda @ Farsickness recently posted..Street Eats: Night Markets in TaiwanMy Profile

    Reply
    • Oh no, that happened to you too! Wow, men are seriously such creeps, gross. And actually that happened to me in Italy also but it was on a nude beach.

  14. Strangely enough, a similar thing happened to me in Paris when I was 19. I’d been visiting a uni fried who was over there on a year abroad, and as she had to work on my first day there, I set off exploring by myself – I got flashed by a dirty old man at a bus stop on a busy main road in the middle of the day. My reaction? I just legged it as fast as I could in my flip flops. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do in those situations and I was certainly freaked out. I know it can happen anywhere, but Paris did seem to have a decent share of creepy blokes on that particular visit!
    Clare recently posted..Party Hard Holidays: Has the Rite of Passage Gone Wrong?My Profile

    Reply
    • Ugh that’s awful! I really wish this kind of thing wouldn’t happen… though it does seem a little more common in France, oddly enough?

  15. I found your pages while googling highway safety flashers, imagine that. Now re your Paris experience, you should already know by now that yes, men’s brains are wired differently and a vastly greater proportion than among women tend to creepiness. In such cases as this, tho, you should try to decide if it’s a genuine threat or just disgusting and wrong. If the latter, maybe raising a ruckus and drawing attention to the perp and embarassing him is the most effective thing you can do. Depending on the country you’re in, police may judge it a crime or basically just shrug. Now as to whether such incidents happen more frequently in France, i have my own judgment, and i think i could convince you too, based on what i know about French culture, but i’m not going to go into that here….
    Now, back to the highway safety flashers….

    Reply
    • Wow that’s so funny that’s how you found my site! And I think I know what you mean in terms of French culture in this way…

  16. The guy in the butcher shop who refused to help was a dick. Sadly, I’ve learned from travelling that often the times you need help the most, is when people are least likely to offer it. I’ve had a million small kindnesses- people pointing me in the right direction, sharing food on long bus trips, advising me on cool things to see in their town. But for bigger things? Not so much.

    Coming back from a tourist site in Mexico, our cab driver refused to take us into the town centre proper. He dropped us off on the outskirts, twenty blocks from the centre. No people around, poor street lighting and between us we had several thousand dollars worth of electronics. We went into lots of little shops asking for a taxi number, and no one helped us.

    Like Kate said, people hear “help” and they know it’s going to be something that will involve an effort from them for little reward. At least calling “fire” piques their curiosity and might shame them into doing something when they realise you knew they had to be manipulated into coming out to help a lone, screaming female.

    Reply

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