2017: Towards equal tourism participation and inclusive working environments: access, security and wellbeing  >  Making tourism accessible to all


"Why can’t I travel by myself?" An analysis of the impact of sexual harassment

Written by: Lister, April-Rose

University: Lincoln

This paper will reach new territories to explore the coping methods for dealing with harassment which previously have not been adequately analysed. It will also shape an understanding of the impact of harassment on the traveller’s recollection of overall experience.

Sexual harassment, Gender, Experience, Access to travel, safety,

Attention in home country acts as a self-esteem booster but whilst travelling the experience can be frightening due to lacking cultural knowledge (Rowlins, 2012). This cultural barrier leads to misinterpretation of communication as accepted social norms rather than sexual harassment. The interview with a well-travelled female participant revealed that sexual harassment can be classed as verbal and non-verbal interaction, ranging from catcalling, or ogling, to unwanted physical contact.

The interviewee has travelled through Europe, Asia, America and The Middle East. A vast majority of these experience were enjoyable however, in some cases she felt like her independence was regarded as an opportunity and she was given “TOO special treatment” in the form of unwanted attention.

Gardner (1995) explores harassment as further dividing the sexes and causing mistrust or suspicion of genuinely kind acts. This is unfortunate because the acts of the minority can wrongly represent a culture or destination. However, it must be accepted that each destination does have its own expectations of women whereby independent travel is non-conventional. Surprisingly, independent women travellers are still “frowned upon” in the UK. Due to rising safety concerns and the perceived vulnerability of women, travel is not considered safe. The common association between geographically free women as morally loose or sexual availability is a stereotype applied to independent women by local men (Cukier et al, 1996). This in some respects justifies their acts of harassment because they believe women seek it.

Furthermore, Gardner (1995) identified public spaces as male territory. Therefore when a women wanders into a space alone they are naturally subject to the male gaze. When I walk around alone in the streets abroad I get the same feeling of when me and my friends walk into a pub that’s not our local. Kind of this unspoken rule of what you doing here?

A key point the interviewee stressed was in fact the desire to have a “man-trip”. To be free from the unwanted attention and be able to walk alone and explore the country whilst making friends with local people. However, once the interviewee had experienced sexual harassment it made making friends with local people a lot harder. The local women showed the highest level of tension towards the travelling women.

The perception of western women as being financially well-off adds to their desirability. But also society plagues women with the notion that showing resistance to unwanted communication connotes ugliness and hostility. A core issues for women is that they do not respond in the same way to the same treatment at home or abroad. When at home they are more likely to “talk back or slap a man”, abroad they feel like they “haven’t got the right to say anything”. On the other hand, Cukier et al (1996:27) describes women as more than “squashed ants” and that a polite declination is not enough to fight the on-going battle with public harassment. However, there are no proposed alternative because of the sensitivity of the topic and uniqueness of each case.

The perception of western women in particular is influenced by the ability to portray their sexuality through clothing choices and the belief that they are sexually well-off leads to their desirability. Therefore another coping strategy implemented was to alter the clothing in order to draw less attention and “blend in”. By adopting “local attire” the interviewee adopts the attitude of local women by feeling she has less social power, and in turn feels she is being more untrue to herself. Subsequently, feeling more uncomfortable and diminishing the perception of the experience when recalling the trip.

Contrastingly to previous research, the interviewee stressed the importance of awareness of social situations. Simply to block them out by listening to music is not a coping mechanism, more a system of denial. Denial is present all across the tourism industry with the inability to acknowledge of the detrimental effect of public harassment on the overall tourist’s experience. There are women that travel with the intention of being “sexually available” and respond positively to the attention they receive. However this does not mean that all women should be subject to this treatment, the key is acknowledging when the attention is unwanted. Moreover, the assumption that all women are “up-for-it” is a social concern that needs to be addressed.

Despite the sensitivity of the topic the interviewee was un-phased by the discussion. Therefore, more research can be conducted on how the mutual differences in attitudes can be maintained whilst being respected by hosts and tourists. Moreover, a step forward in the industry needs to be taken in order to encourage more independent female travellers to discount the “geography of fear” (Cukier et al, 1996, 25).


Cukier, J., Norris, J., and Wall, G (1996) The involvement of women in the tourism industry of Bali, Indonesia. Journal of development Studies. 33 (2) 248-270

Gardner, C. B (1995) Passing By: Gender and Public Harassment. London: University of California Press Ltd.

Rowlins, R (2012) “Whether I am an American or not, I’m not here so you can hit on me” Public harassment in the experience of U.S women studying abroad. Women studies. 41, 476-497.

The sexualised gaze women encounter abroad

Written by: Wilson, Sabina

University: Lincoln

Initially at first to propose a paper of research similar to this topic, however considered an alternative. The literature suggests women, in particular women travelling, are condemned with fear and being an easy prey for their vulnerability, self-conspicuousness, and fear of harassment in foreign environments, especially when travelling alone (Adam and Adongo, 2016; Doran, 2016).

According to Wilson and Little (2008) states that tourism experiences are subjected to gender, sexuality, social and culture that are constructed and triggers constraints and therefore, impacts women’s leisure when visiting an unknown place with the sense of uncertainty and unfamiliarity that potentially impacts women’s travelling experiences because of their gender (p.189). From a feminist point of view, the main focus of gender and the power relations that informs the events and activities revolved around tourism (Brown and Osman, 2017).

There are perceived perceptions of women fearing visiting unknown public spaces to them and not familiar with the cultural norms and attitudes and treatment of women travelling differs whether travelling with company or alone. The fears of women travelling abroad and capturing unwanted and sexualised attention from men, usually local men that constitutes as sexual harassment, the sexualised male gaze. In the concept of the ‘geography of women’s travel fear’, Wilson and Little (2008) argue it is unsafe and not very appropriate for women to travel alone. Also important to acknowledge that the fear of harassment can take place both at home and elsewhere, not just abroad. Therefore, the fears that are constrained and the structural inequalities can impact women’s every day’s lives as well travelling elsewhere.

There are certain strategies women can follow to avoid the sexualised gaze, however in a socio-cultural context, female tourists are expected to behave in the same manner of local women, respecting the cultural norms whilst continue to travel to minimise their own discomfort, such as adhering to the local dress codes. Thus there are degrees of difference in the experiences female tourists (Wilson and Little, 2008; Brown and Osman, 2017).

Another point is, women are not the only ones that are prone to be vulnerable and subjected to the gaze from the other. For example gay tourists and women of host communities can also experience vulnerability and be a target for harassment. For future interest, to explore the geography of fear from the perspectives of women from host counties and how these either overlap or differ from the experiences of women travellers.

Adam, I. and Adongo, C. (2016). Do backpackers suffer crime? An empirical investigation of crime perpetrated against backpackers in Ghana. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 27, pp.60-67.

Brown, L. and Osman, H. (2017). The female tourist experience in Egypt as an Islamic destination. Annals of Tourism Research, 63, pp.12-22.

Doran, A. (2016). Empowerment and women in adventure tourism: a negotiated journey. Journal of Sport & Tourism, 20(1), pp.57-80.

Wilson, E., & Little, D. E. (2008). The solo female travel experience: Exploring the ‘geography of women’s fear’. Current Issues in Tourism, 11(2), 167–186.