Harassment & Unwanted Attention
You may experience harassment or unwanted attention abroad. Forms of harassment may include cat-calling, whistling, making comments, or pursuing someone on the street. Please remember that fellow participants, your Resident Director, local program staff, as well as the staff at American Councils in D.C. are here to help support you. If you have trouble adjusting to life abroad or if you've had an experience that made you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or violated, please don't hesitate to discuss it with American Councils staff or your Resident Director.
Remember that although there are steps you can take to lower your profile, you are not responsible for the behavior of others. Below are some strategies to mitigate harassment or unwanted attention abroad:
- Avoid making eye contact with or smiling at strangers, especially strangers of the opposite sex. American friendliness can be misinterpreted as a sexual invitation.
- Avoid walking alone, especially on empty, dimly lit streets at dusk or at night.
- Oftentimes, the best response to unwanted stares, comments, or touches is to ignore the harasser and remove yourself from the situation quickly and calmly.
- Participants who are being harassed or pursued by a stranger in public should remain in a public, visible, populated place and call the Resident Director.
- Avoidance is the safest tactic. Try to avoid situations that may be dangerous, such as being out late at night by yourself or being alone with someone you do not know well.
- Many female participants may find it more comfortable to be in the company of a male fellow participant while in public places, as this may decrease sexual harassment.
- Participants should be supportive of one another. If you are among a group of CLS participants and you notice that another participant is receiving unwanted attention, suggest that the group move elsewhere.
You can find additional information about your health and safety abroad in the Health and Safety section of this handbook.
Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence
Sexual harassment and sexual violence can happen with those you are familiar with or with those whom you have never met before. Being in an unfamiliar environment and away from your domestic support network can add an additional level of distress to any bad experience, including coping with sexual harassment and sexual violence. The CLS Program seeks to decrease the risk of sexual harassment and sexual violence by providing training for all CLS participants and staff to clarify the CLS Program’s definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Additionally, the CLS Program speaks with participants before and during the program about health and safety considerations in their host country, and CLS onsite staff are available to provide support to participants throughout the program. However, it is important to note that even when all precautions are taken, sexual harassment and sexual violence can occur.
Sexual harassment or violence is never the fault of the victim. If you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault, the CLS Program will provide nonjudgmental support and help meet your needs to the best of our ability.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment, or witness sexual harassment, you are encouraged to inform CLS Program staff, institute staff, or the Resident Director, who can be reached 24-hours a day. CLS urges you to report any instance of sexual harassment as soon as possible after the incident has occurred. If a participant reports to CLS Program staff that he/she has suffered a sexual assault or harassment on the CLS Program, or if CLS Program staff otherwise learn of a sexual assault or sexual harassment incident, CLS Program staff will provide immediate support and assistance, including access to professional medical care and counseling and support (on-line or on-site depending on availability), as requested by the participant.
Upon receiving reports of sexual harassment, CLS Program staff have a responsibility to report the incident to their supervisor or program director. Known incidents must also be reported to the U.S. Department of State. You should know that all reports or complaints of sexual harassment will be handled discreetly; however, individuals with a legitimate need to know will be informed of the complaint in order for the CLS Program to respond effectively.
Participants may also access the following resources, which are independent of the CLS Program:
- Pathways to Safety (formerly Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad): Pathways to Safety provides sexual assault prevention & response regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or location worldwide. (Their crisis line number is +1-833-SAFE-833 from the U.S., see the Pathways to Safety website for country specific directions at https://pathwaystosafety.org/)
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): This is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (+1-800-656-HOPE) in partnership with providers across the United States. (https://www.rainn.org/)
Participants are encouraged to make use of U.S. government resources available to Americans overseas, such as the American Citizens Services desk at the U.S. Embassy.
The CLS Program strongly advises participants to contact the Resident Director before reporting incidents to law enforcement. The Resident Director can connect you with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, if necessary. It is important to consider local laws and procedures before making a decision to report incidents of harassment or assault to local police. Local laws, investigatory procedures, and courtroom rules governing such cases may differ significantly from those of the U.S. and in some cases may compound the victim’s trauma. Certain incidents, if considered a criminal case, may require the victim to testify at a point in time after the CLS Program has completed. Attitudes toward harassment also vary considerably. In some cases, local police may not be supportive of a victim reporting harassment. Depending on host country laws, the reporting of harassment or assault may even be considered an admission of guilt on the part of the victim.
Prior to departure participants should also consider what resources in their home communities and/or on their home campuses, such as university health or wellness centers, they may be able to access while overseas.
Participants may also report to CLS staff concerning behavior, such as general cat-calling, or actions or statements that they believe may constitute harassment, but which are difficult to fully define. In such incidents, CLS Program staff will also provide immediate support and assistance to the participant.
As stated in the Sexual Harassment Policy, the CLS Program prohibits retaliation against program participants and other members of the CLS community for filing a complaint of discrimination or harassment. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, threats, intimidation, coercion, and adverse actions in relation to evaluation or program participation. The CLS Program will investigate allegations of retaliation and will take strong responsive action if retaliation occurs.