Harassment of women business travelers

If you’re a woman who has traveled alone, especially for business, you’ve probably thought a lot about how to stay safe and unharassed.

Joe Sharkey at the New York Times devoted his weekly business travel column today to harassment while traveling and how women deal with it. I’m very grateful. It’s a well written article (full disclosure, I’m quoted in it) and it brings this important women’s issue and important business issue to the attention of the general public.

His article made me remember how often this topic came up when I was researching public harassment for my book. At a very basic level, I read many stories about how harassment and feelings of unsafety impacted women’s eating habits. Women shared stories about going to a restaurant alone and having to deal with men harassing and propositioning them (even men with wedding rings). Because of those experiences, going forward, crackers and candy in a vending machine or expensive room service became necessary alternatives for dinner.

Crazy, right? And that’s on the lesser end of the spectrum of changes many women make while traveling.

Last April, I went on my first business trip. For part of the trip, I was safe and secure, staying with an aunt and cousin who lived near where I gave a talk. But during the second half of the trip, I was in an area I’d never been, staying alone in a hotel. I went running soon after I arrived at my hotel and a scary harassment experience I faced led me to write one of my first op-eds. It also made me feel really unsafe as a woman traveling alone, especially as my hotel room was on the first floor, less than a mile from where the man harassed me.

I had to talk myself into not being frightened. I had to convince myself that the statistics for being attacked were in my favor – it was more likely I’d get hurt in a car crash than that a man would break into my room and attack me. And the self pep-talk worked. Mostly.

I travel a lot now to give talks about street harassment and I continue to make myself be brave. To go out running alone. To explore the city if I have time in my schedule. To not eat all of my meals from a vending machine. I remind myself that I have every right to be in public and I have every right to travel alone without restrictions.

Are you a woman who has traveled alone for work? Do you have any strategies for feeling safe?

One Response to Harassment of women business travelers

  1. I have been teaching personal protection strategies seminars to women for nearly 20 years and written numerous books on the subject, including Not An Easy Target, Fireside Press, which I am in the process of updating. I am currently working with
    companies to teach their employees how to take better care of their safety while on the road or in their daily lives. I would like to recommend the following two very important tips: 1) In hotels, reserve rooms near the elevators. Reduce your time walking down long, vacant hallways. 2) In an elevator, position yourself as close to the control panel as possible. This will make it easier to press the alarm — or another floor to exit the elevator sooner if you feel uncomfortable.
    Be Safe! Paxton Quigley

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