IT HAPPENED TO ME

I spent my junior year of college studying in Madrid, Spain. Easily, it was the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate years. During that time, I traveled extensively, taking any opportunity to explore Europe and North Africa. New Year’s Eve found me in London. 

Four of my friends and I decided to count down to the New Year in Trafalgar Square. With a view of Big Ben, and joined by thousands of other revelers, it started as an exhilarating evening. Or maybe that was just the feeling of being really cold in subfreezing temperatures, uncertain. Sadly, the night took an unexpected turn. At some point, all five of us started getting groped, fondled, and grabbed. There were so many people that it was impossible to move or get away. We couldn’t even see who they were, we could only feel their hands. We huddled close to each other, hoping to provide less opportunity as we tried to move away. We eventually made our way to London police officers.

This was London in the mid-90s. Similar events continue to make headlines, most recently this past New Year’s Eve in Bangalore, India and during last year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg, Germany, as well as  in July 2016 during Pamplona, Spain’s running of the bulls. And there are more incidents just like these that never receive international attention. 

ADVICE AND RESOURCES

So what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

Try to get out of it, if it is safe to do so. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t had a similar experience to understand that protecting yourself from such an attack can be difficult. For me and my friends, it was impossible to move; there were too many bodies crammed into a contained space. It was loud and chaotic, and we couldn’t draw attention to our situation. 

Seek help, if you’d like to or need to. You can report the assault to law enforcement, if it is safe to do so. This could lead to finding the person(s) responsible and preventing others from experiencing an assault. Or it may not; they may not be found, they may not be charged, or there may not be laws against what happened to you in your host country. In some countries, people who have experienced sexual assault may themselves be criminalized due to existing laws.  If you’d like to discuss potential security or legal concerns before making the decision to report to police, first call Harvard Travel Assist, the University’s 24/7 global emergency response program at +1-617-998-0000. Case managers can provide information on local laws and the capabilities of local law enforcement, as well as advise you on whether or not it’s safe to stay.      

If you need medical attention or would like to speak to a mental health professional, call Harvard Travel Assist. In some countries, post-exposure prophylaxis and emergency contraceptives are not legal or universally available. Case managers can provide advice and referrals to local facilities for care, or evacuation to a regional facility. Harvard Travel Assist can also get a mental health professional to speak with you over the phone or refer you to an in-country provider. For confidential support, you can contact the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (OSAPR) or call the HBS MBA Sexual Assault Hotline at +1-617-998-HELP.  You may also ask to be connected to these resources when you call Harvard Travel Assist. 

BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

If you’d like assistance in researching and understanding the laws surrounding sexual assault in the country you’ll be vising, email me at elizabeth_esparza@harvard.edu to schedule a consultation. You can also visit the GSS website to research your destination and learn more about our resources for sexual assault and gender-based violence. If you’d like to learn more about University policies and resources for individuals who experience sexual assault, contact HBS Title IX Coordinator Suzy Conway at sconway@hbs.edu or visit the Title IX website.  OSAPR and the HBS MBA Hotline would also be good options to confidentially discuss available resources. 

Please know that Harvard’s support is global and that you have a lot of options, resources, and people that can help. 

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