Spike in women reporting sexual assault while on overseas holidays

More women are reporting sexual assault while travelling, an Australian travel insurer has observed.

In the last four months Southern Cross Travel Insurance has assisted on five sexual assault claims. Previously they were receiving just one or two reports a year.

The circumstances of the assaults varied, occurring in different countries across Europe and South America, although in every account those involved were under the influence of alcohol.

Southern Cross’ emergency assistance manager Karen Broughton said most of the victims believe their drinks were spiked while they were at a bar prior to the assault. One assault took place in a bar, while others occurred in private homes.

Broughton said the highest priority for travel insurance companies is to make sure the victims are safe. They are then able to arrange for medical treatment, HIV testing, counselling, and to ascertain whether the victim needs to be sent home.

While the victim is never at fault in instances of sexual assault, Broughton said travellers should always be looking out for their own safety.

“You might be in the most beautiful place on earth but it’s a place that’s foreign and you need to be cautious when out on the town,” she said.

Broughton advised travellers, particularly solo travellers, to research the country they are travelling to by using online forums such as the Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, to receive helpful tips on where to go and where to avoid.

“The experiences are obviously dreadful and these individuals are having to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event when they are alone and a long way from home,” Broughton said.

“This is why we are reminding travellers – particularly women travelling alone – to remain vigilant, even when they are at their most relaxed.”

The rules for keeping yourself safe on a night out at home still apply overseas. Broughton advised travellers:

1. If you are travelling alone and going out for an evening, see if you can join in with an established group of travellers for added safety, at least until you become more familiar with your surroundings.

2. Plan how you will be getting back to your accommodation – check what time public transport finishes, or pre-arrange a taxi.

3. If you are having a drink in a bar, never leave it unattended. If you are with a friend, ask them to hold it while you go to the toilet or to dance. If you are by yourself, leave it and purchase a new one.

4. Only accept drinks from people you trust. If you accept a drink from somebody you have just met, or don’t know well, watch as the drink is made and served directly to you.

5. Go for bottled drinks that you have watched the bartender open, rather than drinks served in a glass.

6. If your drink has a bitter, salty or strange taste, don’t drink it.