5 Lessons I Learned Being Sexually Assaulted in India

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I’d love to be sitting here telling you that India is totally safe for solo female travellers. That’s unfortunately not going to happen today…and for quite a number of years. Decades?

Two months on from my experience of being sexually assaulted in India, this is what needs to be said.

Sexual assault in india
Traveling in India

I was sexually assaulted in Rishikesh

After a lovely birthday dinner with my friend Victoria, I left the restaurant and began to walk back home the way I had come. Victoria departed in the opposite direction.

White marble tiles paved the way forward. There were plenty of benches to enjoy the view and quaint lights to guide the way. However, this scene slowly merged into a stone dirt path. Benches turned into trees and the lights disappeared.

I’m an alert girl. I continuously check in with myself and my surroundings. I ask myself: ‘Is this OK? Am I OK? OK?’

Always listen to your inner alarm

My inner warrior voice started to speak increasingly louder to me.

Time twisted and turned and before I knew it, I was walking alone and saying right back to myself, ‘You’re in s**t’. I knew it.

I whipped out my map app, double checked my location, and saw that I was halfway from the restaurant and halfway from home. I’d made it this far. I didn’t want to go back. I decided to keep going.

Survival tactics kicking in…

With my head held high, I started walking down that river path like I owned that route. Arms swinging, chest up and out, every ounce of my body langauge was saying, ‘Mess with me and I’ll rain hell down on you’. The guy who materialised ahead didn’t pick up that broadcast.

First he asked where I was going. I said hi and told him I was heading to the bridge. I made sure he was in front of me as he kept walking forward. But at one point he stopped and mumbled something in Hindi, and I couldn’t hear….and oop, he just went ahead and full on grabbed my chest.

Actions speak louder than words

I furiously scorned him and kept on walking. A dishevelled labourer walked past and I pointed right at the culprit. ‘This man just grabbed me!’ Yet he had no idea what I was saying and continued to walk on. And I was still on this one-track road with this idiot.

I wish I had just took his ass down right there and then. I’m a nice person. Too nice. I believed ‘telling him off’ would do the trick. Far from it.

Jiu Jitsu saved my life

He reached inside his trousers and I automatically thought ‘Dear Lord he has a knife’. I’ve never been so relieved to see a penis. For what was about to happen next, I knew I could handle it.

He lunged at me and tackled me to the ground. Things escalated within seconds.

He ripped my trousers down and was frantically trying to ram his fingers into me. Thank the heavens my body went straight into action mode and didn’t freeze.

Two years ago, I learnt Gracie Jiu Jitsu for this very situation.

I wish I had done more

I HOWLED. I brought my knees to my chest and kept my feet firmly on his hip bones to stop him from getting any closer. I covered my head with my arms in case he tried to hit my head. I struck his chin repeatedly upwards with the heel of my right foot.

There was no way I was going to let this dickhead ruin my birthday.

At this point I could have done so much more. Broken his arm. Choked him out. I wish I had. But as I was planning my next move, he suddenly jumped up and ran away.

I got up. I brushed myself down. I gathered my belongings on the floor, picked up my flung flip-flops and made my way towards the end of the path back home.

I stayed put in this exact small city for a whole other month.

The 5 Lessons I Learnt From Being Sexually Assaulted in India

I was so relieved when I reached my accommodation that I was alive and well, that I called a couple of friends that night just to talk through the shock and calm the hell down. I spoke to God a lot in the bathroom. I’m not Christian, but I’m certainly spiritual. I thanked every single force that was watching over me for getting me out of there in one piece and vowed to talk about what happened publicly. I messaged my Jiu Jitsu coach and thanked him again and again and again.

The next morning I got up early, washed, dressed and went right back out there. I didn’t go to the Police. I didn’t want to be questioned by a bunch of blokes. Instead, every cafe or shop I went to, I told the owner what had happened. News like this spreads fast in a community. They needed to know.

Here is what I’ve learnt from the whole experience:

1. You need to travel to India

India is amazing. It has a ton of problems but the country is fascinating. I’m passionate about women empowerment and more than ever, I want to help the women I met with Hands on Journeys. I also fell completely in love with yoga in Rishikesh. I stayed in an ashram there after the incident to process everything. I’m grateful to yoga for helping me heal. One man’s actions does not dictate how I see India. Not one bit.

Think you shouldn’t travel to India because of what happened to me and other women?

2. It could have happened in any country

Nadia Khomami from The Guardian says it perfectly: ‘It happens in every country every day to all women, and it’s done by friends, colleagues, ‘good guys’ who care about the environment and children and even feminism, supposedly’.

The truth is, whether women are stepping out into their hometown, or flying across the world to a completely new place, we need to watch our backs wherever we are. Terrible but true. 35% of women (undoubtedly more) worldwide have experienced assault in their lifetime. The #MeToo movement is speaking loudly and clearly about that.

3. Every women needs to learn self-defence skills

I wholeheartedly believe that taking the time to learn Jiu Jitsu saved my life. It’s one of the best presents you can give yourself before you hit the road. It doesn’t matter how small you are. You don’t need big muscles either. We’ve got this!

Free Self Defense Course

4. Healing takes time

I was so determined to not let this attack ruin my India trip. I took time on my yoga retreat to try to process it all. My body and mind were suffering though. Underneath the determination, I’ve been highly anxious. It’s taken me time to feel OK being near men, to be alone in a room with a man and walk on the street solo. Physically, there’s been a lot of stress reactions going on. So if this has happened to you too, I’m sending you lots of love and care. We must be kind to ourselves.

5. We need to talk about this more than ever

Writing this post hasn’t been easy. But it’s necessary. Everyone needs to be aware of what is going on but more than anything, we need to work together for a change which has been urgently needed for…(since the dawn of time?!). If you’re talking to your girl friends about travel safety, speak to your boy friends about consent.

Related Reading

17 Female Friendly Places to Travel Alone in India

How to be a part of Women Empowerment in India

The Perfect Solo North India Trip for Girls

45 thoughts on “5 Lessons I Learned Being Sexually Assaulted in India”

  1. Ughhhh so sorry this happened to you, Alice, but I’m proud you’re speaking up about it. Your last point is right on – it’s not just on women to express solidarity with other women either, but we need to demand more of men (and, really, men need to demand more of each other and hold each other accountable!). It makes me sick that sexual assault and harassment are so common, but it happens all the time. For now, we fight back.

    • Hello beautiful Leah. I remember you talking about this on your blog too. I think almost every woman I have spoken to has a story. It breaks my heart. But I simply refuse for this to stop us. Men certainly need to demand more of each other and hold each other accountable. For now, we fight back.

    • Hello Sarah. Thank you! I wanted to hit publish on it in 2017 to leave this energy behind – but 2018 is about new starts, goals and making things better. Let’s hope we can all learn from this story and take steps to a happier world.

  2. Thank you hon for sharing this. You are a brave intrepid soul, much after my own heart and as I prepare for extensive travels in the next couple of years, you have articulated what for me is only an unspoken fear. It is so important for us to talk about this and to be prepared, even as we go about our daily lives in our home countries. Thank you x

  3. I’m so sorry that you experienced this but it’s great that you’ve decided to publish your dreadful experience. Onwards and upwards

  4. Thank you, Alice. I wish you had the chance to mess that dude up more. So glad you AND your body knew what to do! Your message is VERY important. you are not alone.

  5. appreciate you telling your story and so glad you were able to protect yourself and stop it before it went any further. I have also been through these situations and no matter what, I am not going to let it stop me from living the life I choose! We need to keep on fighting for whats right. Our rights as women to live our lives without having to deal with these constant assaults.

  6. Thank you for writing this post! It’s definitely very brave of you! I am an Indian and I am really sorry this happened to you! And thank you for not writing off India because of this unfortunate incident! These things happens more often to so many of us than we can imagine and I often feel I wish I could do something! Sometimes I wish I could just stab men! And I hate the fact that I am unable to make a difference! Talking about it definitely must help! So thank you again for writing!

    • Hello Ramya. I wish we could do so much more too. Speaking about it is a great step – we need to learn from each other, support each other, and educate one another. Slowly but surely, I truly hope a change will come.

  7. This is amazing! You really are a kickass girl! So very glad you shared this and so glad you got out of this situation on top! You showed him not to treat girls like that. You should be very proud. I’m highly considering learning self defense, I have been for a while but wondered if it would even come in handy, if I was even brave enough to do anything in these situations. This story is a really good one so thank you

  8. Sorry to hear you went through this Alice but thank you for sharing your story – I totally agree it’s really important to talk about these things! It’s great to hear you didn’t let his awful actions ruin your experience in India, it sounds like you’ve been so strong coping with what happened. x

    • Word up Keri! I try my best to stay positive and always take a lesson away from the events in life which are hard and uncomfortable. Thank you for your support. Sending love, light and girl power to you!

  9. What an amazing strong woman you are. Sorry to hear this happened to you. I’ve always wanted to visit India. I have friends who are from Mumbai, but I’ve always been nervous about traveling alone. Your story is really empowering. Thank goodness your okay.

    • I count my blessings everyday! But also high five Jiu Jitsu for getting me out of there. It’s great that you have some friends already in Mumbai. How about starting there and working your way out? Travelling with Hands on Journeys when I got to India first was really helpful to.

  10. You’re such a role model for all of us! I’m sorry you had to go through this and so proud of you by the way you handled it. Keep up the good work on yourself. Lots of love from Argentina. I wish I could go to India some day.

  11. Way to go!!! So strong and helpful to post your experience, thank you. I’m currently in India right now and have been blown away by how kind and helpful people have been. I was worried before I left. But just like you said, sexual assault can happen anywhere, for me it was in San Jose, California and again in San Jose Costa Rica. I’ve not let it stop me from traveling.

    • Good for you girl. I think it’s really important for us to stay strong and determined but equally to give ourselves the time to process, heal and recover. Sending you lots of love and encouragement for all your travels in 2018. Keep it up girl!

  12. It is very impressive how you dealt with this man, we all need your instinctive response and courage. I spent six months working and traveling in India as a naive 18yo many years ago. While I was groped on numerous occasions (never anything more serious, thankfully), my response to these men, usually furious shouts and wacks, was met with laughter or shrugs, never shame. I hope you have taught the man who assaulted you a lesson, though changing attitudes more widely is very difficult.

    • I honestly think about this man and what his thought processes were right then and there….and how they are now. I truly hope there’s a glimmer of thought in his mind that it wasn’t the right thing to do to a woman. In a weird way, with him meeting me that night, I hope I showed him that women are not going to take any of this crap. Change indeed is going to take a very long time though. Educating the young boys and men of India is possibly the way forward – whilst encouraging the young women of India to show their strength just as much.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing. I am Indian, and I feel saddened every time I read of us treating someone who comes to our country like this, but your post is so balanced that you are not condemning any country.

  14. I am so sorry this happened to you, but I am amazed at your ability not to let it color your experience, and to make something positive out of it. I worry about assault too when I travel alone, but like you I project confidence, try not to take any shit, and I’m working on my self defense skills!

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Alice!!
    Being from Bangladesh, India is so close to me, I consider it my own country. However, I am so proud of you!! You were so brave and courageous and I agree with girls having to engage in learning self-defence techniques, but most importantly changing the way men think.

    Lots of love – Israt xo

  16. Alice, This is one thing I never wanted to find on your blog but here it is. It’s heart breaking. I really wanted to read about your travel experiences in India and this is the first post I’m reading. I’m so sorry for your bad experience in my country.

    • It is not your fault and I’m sorry it is the first post you read. I love India very much. This could have happened anywhere and I really want to stress that in the article. India is an amazing experience. I look forward to returning to see more!

  17. Wow Alice – you are an incredible girl. I love your website but like everyone who has commented I was sad to hear you experienced this awful incident. But your strong mentality is clearly no one can take away from you. It’s inspirational. Sending you lots of love hXXXX


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