While I was travelling through Europe, chilling out on beaches in Croatia and exploring old towns with new friends one of my best friends who also happens to be a blogger was swimming with whales in Tonga, living a dream as she explored foreign shores.
She would send me pictures daily as I gasped in horror seeing snapshots of her swimming with humpback whales (I’m terrified of basically everything underwater) but was happy for her because diving is a huge passion of hers.
But one day the tone of our upbeat conversations of travel and explorations took a turn as she detailed the event that impacted her travels in Tonga. She told me she was sexually assaulted, along with her travel buddy while they were riding in a truck with a local.
Disgusted to hear that this man sat masturbating beside these two innocent girls just wanting to see a less touched part of the world made me instantly cringe, it made me angry and frustrated on behalf on Hannah, my best blogging buddy, and her friend and it made me sigh heavily with sadness knowing that this happens way too often.
It happened to me too.
Before I continue I would like to make it clear what exactly sexual assault is since there can still be some confusion around the topic. According to the Supreme Court of Canada’s definition, sexual assault does not have to involve contact. Any act that is of sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of a victim is sexual assault.
It was because of Hannah speaking out and writing about her sexual assault in Tonga and the reactions that her article received that pushed me to speak out about a sexual assault that happened to me while I was in Bali, an island where tourists flock to, many dream of visiting and a place that is often referred to as paradise.
When it first happened I told a few of my friends and even my parents (who I’m very close with) but I opted not to share it on social media. I’m someone who’s very proud of being honest with my readers but part of me was scared that I would scare people from travelling and part of me just wanted to brush it all under the rug and ignore it.
Before I sat down to write this article I talked to Hannah about the title, asking her if she thought I should use a similar title to her article and we agreed that I should to have maximum impact, not for clicks, but because this needs to be talked about and addressed more than it currently is.
In February 2018 I moved to Bali to be around like-minded people, digital nomads, where I could have a base, make some friends that didn’t leave after 3 days and be by the beach. I spent 2 months living it up in Canggu, a popular area for digital nomads and backpackers, grabbing dinner with friends daily and working on growing this blog.
I fell in love in Bali and never felt unsafe though stories were going around about men riding by on scooters grabbing bags off of girls as they walked on the street and even one story where a girl had her leg slashed with a knife by a man passing by on a scooter.
I reminded myself that there is crime everywhere and certainly there are some places that are safer than others but I felt safe, I never felt threatened and the locals were always welcoming to me. I wasn’t put off Bali by these stories.
Another story I heard was posted in a Facebook group I was in for people living in Canggu. A girl shared that a local man had followed her on his scooter while she was riding hers and that he was masturbating. It was dark, it was in a quiet area but she was fine.
That had me grow tense just reading the event of this poor girl but I appreciated her stepping forward to warn other girls in the area.
Though you can’t fully protect yourself from such an event happening being aware of what is happening can certainly help you know where to avoid driving at night.
That story obviously wasn’t enough to have me leave but I had travel plans set up so off I went to travel some other Indonesian islands for a month with a friend I had met in Kuala Lumpur.
I almost cried tears of joy when I landed back on the tarmac after a long day for a visa run in Kuala Lumpur. I was back where I felt comfortable, where I sat in cafes daily eating healthy food and blogging with my afternoons spent lounging on the black sand while sipping a coconut and reading.
I wasn’t staying put in Canggu for my last month in Bali though, I opted to actually explore the island and see more of what people were raving about. Rolling hills, towering waterfalls, a relaxing yoga retreat and even more healthy cafes were calling my name.
The nature and the cities in Bali are unbelievable, it truly is a paradise for me.
It was in Ubud that I decided that I needed to explore a lesser known area of Bali, Munduk, where I found some of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, where I ran into almost no tourists and where the roads hugged the mountains as I scooted up into the clouds beside cliffs.
I managed to recruit a new found friend at my hostel in Ubud to join me for a 2-day adventure of waterfall chasing and a night in the mountains before returning back to Ubud.
We opted to ride different scooters so we both got a chance to ride the fun roads.
About 20 minutes into our mini road trip we were just outside Ubud where the bustling city life was still evident but starting to fade behind us when a local man drove up beside me and said hello. Thinking nothing of it I said hello back as locals often say hello while riding and they see a foreigner. Usually, it’s accompanied by a welcoming smile and a small nod.
This man was wearing a medical mask over his face which is also not unusual as many locals do it because of the fumes from vehicles so I could only see his eyes.
I nodded politely back and looked back in front of me to focus on my driving.
A few minutes later he drove up beside me again and said hello for a second time. I turned my head towards him ready to say hello again only to stop mid-word when he nodded his head down and I realized that he wanted my attention for a whole different reason, not just to say hello.
I looked down at his hand as he was riding about a metre beside me, moving his hand up and down on his dick that he had out of his pants.
I was so shocked that I don’t remember exactly what my reaction was, probably one of horror. I swerved on my scooter, my instant reaction being that I wanted to get away.
This was certainly not something you ever expect to see and is quite a few levels higher than getting a dick pic that I didn’t ask for (those aren’t okay either, boys).
I looked forward again and began to weigh my options on how exactly to get away from this guy. I was uncomfortable, I didn’t want to be in that moment and I certainly wasn’t asking for it, my clothes were no more revealing than any I had worn for the past 3 months in Indonesia.
I started driving a little erratically hoping to get away from him and hoping that my new friend behind me could keep up as I had the directions and didn’t walk to lose her.
I didn’t want to pull over because I was afraid that he would touch me, the last thing that I wanted.
Again and again he would drive up beside me saying hello. I could tell from his eyes that he was laughing as they wrinkled at the corners. And each time he pulled up beside me I got angrier. I started yelling at him to fuck off before I realized that it was completely useless because clearly, the only word he knew was hello (or that’s all he was pretending to know).
After about 5 minutes he was still tailing me, driving really close and making me nervous before pulling up again.
We were just outside of the city now and rice fields started replacing the houses and businesses. I needed to get away from this guy before we got to an area where there weren’t many people.
I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes out of pure frustration that anyone, anywhere in the world thinks that it’s okay to expose themselves like that to anyone.
Suddenly I decided to slam on the breaks knowing that he only had one hand to drive with. I skidded to a halt and he drove by not expecting me to stop so suddenly. I continued to watch him in the distance as he slowed down and went coasting down the hill just in front of us.
My friend who was following me pulled up behind me asking if everything was okay. I explained everything to her and watched her facial reactions turn from concerned to appalled. I was half paying attention to her, half keeping my eyes on the road where he had disappeared, wondering if he was going to turn around.
Sure enough, he did and as he came back up the hill I pointed him out to my friend as he pulled down his medical mask and exaggeratedly licked his lips staring directly at me.
At that point I thought I was going to break down in tears because I was bursting with anger, ready to scream profanities at him. He was having fun and I hated him for it.
Was I overreacting I asked myself? Should I be this angry? Should I have gotten his license plate and informed the police?
The rational side of me was starting to come back as my breathing slowed and I watched him drive in the opposite direction, away from where I was headed for my day trip.
My friend and I sat there, on our scooters on the side of the road where green rice fields blew in the distance so peacefully. Yet my world at the moment was anything but peaceful.
The same question ran through my head over and over, “How could anyone feel like they had the right to do that?”
I still don’t have the answer and know I never will but I can be thankful that that traumatic experience is over. I’m also very glad that this incident was as far as it went compared to the horrors that other women may have dealt with while on the road or at home.
My experience may be mild compared to someone who has been raped or experienced a more intense form of sexual assault but it doesn’t mean that it should have happened and it doesn’t mean that I should have expected it to happen.
I wrote this article in part because of the reaction that my friend Hannah received after writing hers. The majority were sorry to hear what had happened and were there for her while one (who happens to be a travel blogger) basically had a “shit happens” attitude which is in no way okay. What’s going to change if people, especially influencers, have that attitude?
I want to make it clear to all my fellow solo female travelling friends and women who have yet to embark on their solo journeys that you should never expect bad things to happen but you should be prepared. Some things, unfortunately, you can not always prepare yourself for such as a Balinese man (he could have been from an different Indonesian island, I have no idea) whipping his dick out beside you.
Is it unpleasant? Absolutely. It is going to happen in places where there are different customs? No! It shouldn’t. Please tell me if you know about a custom, country or religion that encourages sexual assault.
My whole point of this article is that I would go back to Bali. I would go back in a heartbeat.
While we can’t stop this from happening around the world or even in our backyards overnight, we can tell our stories to help travellers like us know what to look out for, how to defend themselves and to encourage travellers to not be scared. Just because you visit a foreign country doesn’t mean something bad will happen.
The more women (and men) say no, say that this isn’t okay, the more we can educate everyone.
The most important thing is to trust your instincts, be aware of your safety and to not let the bad things stop you from travelling.