Safe

Written by on December 27, 2017 in Blog, Blog Featured - 18 Comments

Updated January 13, 2018. Following a month of emotional trauma, legal advice and a growing number of women coming forward sharing their own stories of sexual assault in hostels around the world, I chose to edit this blog post and name the hostel where I feel I was assaulted.

Updated: January 9, 2018. I filed a review with Hostelworld who temporarily removed the hostel from their booking engine. However, the hostel is now online again and I was told they spoke with the owner/manager. According to customer service at Hostelworld, they have a longstanding relationship with the hostel (15 years, and the manager has been with them 10) and they refer a lot of business. 

I should have been able to go downstairs to my hostel bar and sit and have a drink in peace.

I should have been able to go downstairs to my hostel bar and sit and have a drink in peace, and not worry about getting drunk and being taken advantage of.

I should have been able to go downstairs to my hostel bar and sit and have a drink in peace, and not worry about getting drunk and being taken advantage of by someone who works at the hostel.

But, that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve been traveling solo as a woman for years. I’ve been drinking alone on my travels for years. I’ve always felt safe. Maybe it’s been a false sense of security, because I definitely know women who have felt safe and have had that shattered.

I guess I never expected to be a cautionary tale. A best-case-scenario of what could have been one of a woman’s greatest fears — no matter if she is home or down the street or in a foreign country.

“Why’d you put yourself in a situation like that?” My male friend questions when he asks me  how my trip to Belgium and London were, and my response is a choked “it was ok” as I let tears fall down my cheeks.

Why did I put myself in a situation?

Put myself in a situation?

Putting myself in the “situation”

I wake up at 8 a.m. to my alarm, a casualty from my real life carried over thanks to forgetting to turn it off the night before. Groggy, I open my eyes and look around.

I’m in my tiny bed in my tiny private room in an old townhouse converted into a hostel in Bruges, Belgium.

I remember arriving the day before from Brussels, under a shroud of clouds. I remember lugging my suitcase over the cobblestone streets as I followed my map into the fairytale city, a smile so big spreading across my face as I relish in the delight of being surrounded by history and beauty and stories. It’s that Travel Joy I covet and I’m deep in it in Belgium.

I remember checking in, dropping my belongings and heading out to find food. I remember eating. I remember returning to my hostel. Freshening up. Going downstairs to the common area and looking at the beer menu carved in wood, and the man behind the bar telling me about the beers.

I remember sitting on the couch, taking a photo of my beer and texting friends back in the States. Talking to a young man who was wrapping up a few months abroad before he started univeristy in 2018. I remember the bartender sidling up next to me on the couch, too close for comfort, but whatever, and delivering another beer to me.

I remember drinking that beer and ordering another — leaving it up to him to choose — and continuing my conversation with the backpacker. I remember the bartender coming up and sitting with me again, interrupting my conversation as he once again got comfortable next to me, telling me he was buying my next beer.

I remember going to the bathroom and coming back and the backpacker getting up and the bartender sitting with me, not leaving. I remember him touching my leg. I remember remarking about the beer in Belgium and my normal consumption and how I could tell the beer was strong.  I remember telling him I used to date an owner of a hostel in Vegas and his smirk when he asked if he was faithful to me, and then let me in on a little secret that the nights I wasn’t with him, he was with other women.

I remember him looking at the time and it being around 10 p.m. I remember getting up to go to the bathroom again. I remember sitting back down and him grabbing my face and kissing me.

And that. is. all.

I close my eyes, turn off my alarm, and go back to sleep because that sinking feel of dread is too much and I’m waiting for the hangover to come (it never does, which also leaves being drugged as a possibility of what happened. Sadly, I will never know).

Four hours later, I wake up again, and once again recount the past 24 hours in my mind. The beers. The couch. The kiss. The blackness. I try desperately to shake the black from my mind, this void which renders me blank.

Nothing comes up. Nothing happens.

I lay in bed for another three hours, letting the cold winter air hit my face from the window.

Nothing.

I try to laugh it off when one of my best friends from home messages me.

“I made out with some Romanian last night,” I recount. I want to type more, but there’s nothing I can type. But, there’s a sinking feeling that begins to take over my mind. You don’t know what happened, Diana. You have no clue.

Finally, I crawl out of bed and go for my wallet. There’s no money missing. I paid for no drinks. I look through my phone, where I’d been cataloging the beers I’ve consumed so I can remember all of them (oh, the irony of writing that). There are six beers. With more in the background.

In my 20 years of drinking, I’ve done some irresponsible shit. I’ve gotten wasted. I’ve puked my guts out. I’ve made out with guys I know I would never make out with sober. I’ve woken up with a few patches missing from my night, blurs, but I’ve never — ever — blacked out like this.

The conversation we (clap) need (clap) to (clap) have (clap)

“You’ve had Belgium beer before,” my male friend says. “You should know how you would react.”

I. Should. Know.

This is a dangerous statement to make.

There are a lot of things I should know. 

I should know what? That a staff member would continue to serve me until I was unable to consent to anything?

“Oh, just bring me whatever you think I’d like,” I had told him.

So, he brought me the strongest beers the hostel had.

I didn’t know at the time. I trusted him. Because I believed I nothing would happen because as an employee, surely there are checks and balances to make sure things like that don’t happen.

Foolish me, I should know that because I’m a woman and drinking that I’m never safe. And if God forbid anything were to happen to me, it is my fault because – fuck – I decided to have a few drinks.

Let it go, I tell myself. Let it go because there’s nothing you can do. You got drunk. You blacked out.

I go through my holiday because I have no choice. I tuck the bile brewing inside deep down. There’s no sense in trying to remember anything. All I see is black.

I scroll through my photos of Bruges, but I can’t escape his face in those dreamy street scenes. I can’t escape the dread hanging over me. The horror at not remembering anything. The questioning of what I did — or didn’t — do.

I power through Europe because I have no choice.

#Metoo movement, a cautionary tale of solo female travel and being taken advantage of

It’s when I return to Las Vegas that everything bubbles to the surface. My entire season of joy, my annual jaunt to Christmas world in Europe, all of it, has been taken. I try to smile when I wipe my tears which spill down my face when I recount the night. I finally have to stop talking about it because every time I do, that sad and fear of what happened that night cast a shadow on me. My girlfriends and I dig deep into the conversation girlfriends across the county right now are having thanks to the stories of harassment, assault and rape.

The females response is always the same, too. Their brows furrow. Their smiles fade. The touch my arm or my leg and their voice lowers a notch. “He took advantage of you,” they tell me. “He knew what he was doing. He works at the hostel. It’s not like he hasn’t been around drunk women before. He gave you those beers. He knew.”

The men? Other than one who was sympathetic and tells me his sister had been attacked, their responses are all the same: why did I put myself in a situation like that.

And then, I’m disgusted all over again.

The Aftermath

It takes me nearly a week of my mind wandering. Of creating “flashbacks” which don’t exist as I desperately try to reason with myself that I didn’t do anything with him. That he kissed me on the couch in that dimly lit hostel bar, and then I excused myself and stumbled up the narrow staircase two floors, opened the door to my closet of a room and crawled into bed.

It’s the vision I try to convince is reality. But, my brain doesn’t let me.

Instead, I imagine worst case scenarios. Tiny nuggets of recall that I know aren’t actual reality, but then am reminded that I will never know the true reality because that was taken from me. There is no control over the situation. No “ah ha” moment. Nothing.

Finally, I attempt to give my mind some peace and I message the hostel via Facebook, asking the man to email me. He does.

I stare at his name in my inbox. My heart races. My hands start to shake.

“Hi, I wanted to write to you because I don’t remember what happened the other week with you. Can you please tell me.”

I nearly wretch when I see he’s emailed me a few hours later. He informs me we were together until 3:30 a.m., when I tell him I want to go upstairs.

More than four hours of time I cannot recall.

I tremble.

“Did we sleep together?” I type.

A few minutes later: “Yes. We sleep.”

My heart shatters as I feel self loathing takeover every inch of my body. Then, I breathe. I remember English isn’t his first language. And “sleep” doesn’t mean “sex.”

I revise.

“Did we have sex with each other?”

“No,” he responds. “We were too drunk.”

Relief floods my body. Then, I dig a little more to clarify exactly what went down. I remember smelling cigarettes the next morning and I ask if I smoked. He responds with a “yes” and then he recounts the conversation we had about smoking. He remembers everything, although he says he was drunk, too. Too drunk to have sex, but remembering the details of a conversation, no problem.

Again, I feel anger rise in me. I quit smoking two years ago and wear that like a badge of honor. I feel anger that I remember nothing. The anger is a constant. So is the guilt and betrayal I feel towards myself.

These feelings rise and rise until they spill out of my eyes as I try desperately to calm myself, to get rid of the emotions filling me up. But, it’s impossible. Instead, I call my therapist and ask for an appointment. Immediately.

Once on her couch, I let the tears flow.

“I am so angry,” I cry. “How could this have happened? How could I have blacked out like that? I’ve never blacked out like that. I’ve been fuzzy, but there are more than four hours of my life I can’t recall. Four hours of total darkness. Four hours where I did things I don’t know I did. It’s the most powerless I’ve ever felt. And, what if something worse than almost having sex and smoking had happened? What if he would have raped me? Would it have even been rape because every man I know seems to think this is my fault, that I got too drunk.”

I sob. And sob. And sob. She listens in her chair, her face crumpled at my anguish.

“I betrayed myself. I put myself in a horrible situation. I’m so so fucking angry. I’m so disappointed in myself. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so ashamed.”

This goes on for almost an hour as I tear myself apart.

“This is my fault.”

She stops taking notes.

“No,” she responds firmly. “What happened between you and him is not your fault. These are two separate stories. You went to a bar at the hostel you were staying at and ordered a drink. You drank it. Then, you drank another beer. Then, he began to give you free beers that had incredibly high alcohol content. You got drunk. He took advantage of that. He preyed on you being alone and being kind and he gave you beers that are as strong as they come. He knew what he was doing. He was a predator. He remembered what happened between you two. You told him you were drunk. He kept giving you beer beyond the point where you could make a conscious decision as to whether or not you should continue drinking. You were walking around, essentially unconscious.”

Predator and prey.

To many men, what happened is my fault. As men have said to me: I put myself in the situation.

One more time — what situation?

I went downstairs to the bar of the hostel I was staying at and the staff member served me two beers. He told me he was buying me the third and I obliged. Then, he continued buying me beers. I trusted him because I was at his place of business. I was a customer at his place of business.

It never crossed my mind that he would be serving me the strongest beers he had, and continue to serve me beyond the point of total blackout drunk. My only fault is that I was a trusting woman in a bar who thought it would be safe for me to have a few beers and then go back upstairs to my room.

Clearly, that was not the case.

I’m incredibly fortunate things didn’t turn out worse for me. I could have been raped (because, yes, men, when a woman is blackout drunk, that’s still rape). I’m also incredibly sad, and incredibly angry at myself for being so trusting, for drinking those initial beers, for smoking a cigarette, for not remembering any of my night, for letting this cloud my entire trip.

I’m sad for the innocence I lost, too. I’ve been traveling solo for nearly two decades. I’ve had my fair share of drinks at bars alone. I’ve been sexually harassed. Sexually assaulted (nearly all of it sober or on my own turf). But, I’ve never had this happen. In almost 20 years. Now, I’ve lost that tiny sense of security I had when I’ve been in safe spaces.

I’m also sad because this has made me see the issue on the table — and the gross divide between a woman’s take on being taken advantage of (and worse) and a man’s.

Why are we still having this conversation? What is the disconnect that leads men to blame women, versus understand? Because they’ve never walked to their front door with their keys spread in their fingers in case someone comes at them? Because they’ve never looked behind them in the dark to see if they are being followed? Because they’ve never had a woman get them so fucking black out drunk (or drugged, because, at this point, I truly don’t know if that’s what happened) that they are taken advantage of and walking around basically unconscious?

What will it take to have this dialog change? It hitting closer to home for them? For someone they love to have something horrible happen to them? Folks, we need to talk.

I can’t go a day without something triggering that asshole’s face in my mind. I can’t look at photos of my trip, see flight deals to Belgium, even look at things which remind me of my trip that have nothing to do with my actual trip, without being triggered and feeling like I’m in downward spiral again. And, I’m a lucky one. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a woman who had something worse happen.

Has something like this happened to you on your travels? What did you do to cope with it?

About the Author

Diana Edelman is an avid traveler who recently spent four years living as an expat. Most notably, Diana spent nearly three years in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked with Save Elephant Foundation to raise awareness about the realities of elephant tourism. Currently based in Las Vegas, Diana works in many industries as a publicist, social media expert, content creator and journalist. The founder of Vegans, Baby, you can normally find her hanging out at vegan restaurants around town, exploring the beauty of the desert southwest or camped out at a coffee shop banging on a keyboard. The co-founder of the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective, Diana has spoken at conferences about travel blogging and responsible tourism.

18 Comments on " Safe "

  1. Alecia Ghilarducci December 27, 2017 at 10:51 pm · Reply

    Diane, I’m so sorry that happened to you. Your account of your experience was riveting and heartbreaking. My daughter was drugged at a frat party at college last semester. Despite being cautious and drinking out of her own water bottle, someone slipped a drug into her drink. Fortunately she left as soon as she started to feel “funny”, and she was able to get home (alone). She ended up throwing up all night long. She reported what happened to campus police the next day. While they took the report, she felt they didn’t really believe her. She agreed to take the “optional” drug test, which was inconclusive. After researching and talking with some friends, she thinks the drug they used was ketamine, which is not one of the drugs they tested for. So basicslly nothing was done. It took her a while to feel safe again, and is relieved that nothing serious happened. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 1:22 am · Reply

      It’s horrifying the stories I am hearing as more and more women take part in this dialog. Your daughter is incredibly fortunate. I’ve been drugged once and ended up crashing my car at 60 mph into an exit sign and narrowly avoiding careening with an overpass. I filed a police report a few days later and it turned out that the person I was accusing had a history of reports like this … but there was never any proof. I was too late to take a test in that case because I had to leave town the next morning. Had it even occurred to me that I was drugged in this particular incident in Belgium, I would have gone to get tested. I don’t know if I will EVER feel safe again being alone at a bar for more than one or two drinks, and I don’t know that I can ever accept a free drink from someone. I am SO grateful nothing worse happened to me — although honestly I will never know since I am taking the word of a man who purposely did this with the goal of having sex with me — but I am clinging to the hope that there is still at least a little bit of good (or fear of being caught) left in him. Since I posted this, a woman reached out to me who knew who I was talking about and the hostel and being in a similar situation, although she avoided my outcome, so I know he has attempted this before, and ultimately, that he has done this before. My warning sign (of many) should have been his comments about when I dated a hostel owner and the likelihood of the owner sleep with women every night he wasn’t with me. But, at that point, I didn’t think anything was going to happen with this guy so I let it slide. I have also reached out to the hostel directly and told them what happened, submitted a review on the booking engine I booked with, and also emailed the tourism boards for the region. My intention with this post was simply to start a dialog, but once someone else said something about his behavior, it became much more than that: he won’t be doing this to another woman at least at this hostel. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Liz December 29, 2017 at 1:37 pm · Reply

    I am so sorry this happened to you. I had a similar situation happen where someone I trusted tried to take advantage of me when I was drunk, in a place that should have been safe. I didn’t report it to my regret, and he ended up doing something similar (with a much worse outcome) to someone else later on. I am glad you reported this to the Hostel itself and on various travel sites, which takes so much courage. So many incidents like this happen, and we as women spend time blaming ourselves for the people preying on us. We do not feel like we have the right to speak out, and those who act like this continue to behave in the same way. Hopefully this will create a safer situation for future hostel visitors.

    Never ever think that this was your fault. Someone who should have been trustworthy while being the face of their place of business engineered a situation to make you vulnerable, to make it easier for them to take advantage of you and your body. That is not something you should ever shoulder the blame for.

    Thank you for your story, and your strength.

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 7:02 pm · Reply

      It took me some time to report it, and a lot of work to get to that point. I’d love to continue to leave reviews, but I’m not sure of the legal ramifications of making statements like that on sites like Trip Advisor. Honestly, I’d like him to get fired, I’d like him to never work again in a place where he can prey on women, and then I would really really like to let this go. For the month, it has consumed me and eaten at me and it’s so draining and so hard. Every time I talk about it, I feel sick to my stomach. But, I want to make sure that this dialog is had with travelers, with women and men, with men, so we all can get on the same page about this stuff. I hope my story can help that dialog. Thank you for your kind and lovely words, thank you for your support. <3

  3. Rease December 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm · Reply

    I am so sorry this happened to you but I am so glad you went to a therapist and that she told you the truth – that this is NOT your fault. Women have a right to travel solo and feel safe. To BE safe in a hostel, not fearing the business owner will take advantage of them.

    I adore you and know that you are strong enough to fight through this. Obviously, this blog post is already a steps towards that. I know you won’t let that predator take solo travel from you.

    I’m here for you, whatever you need. <3

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm · Reply

      My therapist is my angel. I’m still not ok with what happened, and there’s still A LOT I’ve got to work thru, plus now I’m pretty sure I’ve got PTSD around it, so going to need to EMDR that. Thank you for your love and support. I want to make sure this guy never gets his hands on another woman again.

  4. Jenny December 29, 2017 at 2:09 pm · Reply

    I am wondering if it is possible to press charges from another country or return to Belgium and do it? Especially if this guy is preying upon women every other night, possibly.
    Like you, I felt like a seasoned solo female traveler until this past year. I guess I consider myself very lucky because after something very unfortunate happened to me – and the first person I told happened to be a male – he was the one who encouraged me to press charges. I hated going through the process, but I didn’t want it to happen to another woman. I guess it varies country to country and I had no idea how it would be dealt with in the foreign country I was in, but the law seemed to be on my side. So I had to do it, people told me. It was my duty, they said.
    Would like to know your thoughts/feelings like this. Because this dude is still there, and nothing has happened to him. Hit him where it hurts.

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 6:57 pm · Reply

      I don’t know about pressing charges. I am asking people who have reached out to me from Belgium to please help me with it. I don’t think I can do that since I have no proof, but I do hope I can do something so at least his name is on file with the police should someone else report him.

      I wasn’t going to do anything because it hurt me so much. I thought the dialog I created with this post and it being shared on social would be enough to help get people to understand and see what is and is not ok. Then, a reader reached out to me after reading this post and knew the hostel and the man I wrote about. He had tried to do the same thing to her. After I read that, I lost it. There was no way my post was going to be enough. Since this went live, I have emailed the hostel, reached out to the local and regional tourism boards to find out what my recourse is, and left a review on the booking engine I booked my stay. And, I’m not done. I am going to do what ever I can now to make sure this man doesn’t touch another woman.

  5. Ana December 29, 2017 at 2:29 pm · Reply

    Well just for the record, no, it’s not easier to be “almost raped” than it is to be raped. Both of them are not (usually) so much about how it physically hurts, but rather the PTSD feelings they leave you with. Tbh I honestly felt worse after my “almost rape” because I kind of felt like “nothing happened, so I’m not allowed to feel hurt by it so it’s shameful that I’m feeling this way.” Thank you so much for writing this; I hate that it happens of course but I really appreciate it when online influences speak up about things like this. The conversation about sexual assault is growing right now, and the more people who do manage to speak up the more influence we have. Stay strong, keep traveling! And it’s ok to be cautious of course but I hope you can regain the sense of trust that any person should be able to have when having a couple drinks in a hostel bar 🙂

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 6:53 pm · Reply

      Oh my gosh. YES. That is exactly how I feel. One girl even commented on facebook that she didn’t see what all the fuss was about since nothing “really happened.” I feel very much like I don’t have a right to feel like this, and I def have some PTSD around it, it’s clear whenever I look at photos of my trip, see mentions of Belgium … I hope more people start to talk and I hope men understand why this isn’t our fault when it happens. And, I hope that POS at the hostel I stayed at loses his job and never ever does this to anyone else.

  6. Katie December 29, 2017 at 2:59 pm · Reply

    Diana I am so sorry this happened to you and I wish men understood but I have found the same thing. I just read a really interesting (and sad) book on the topic of acquaintance rape in a college town and it is terrifying how common it is and how badly the police handled so many of the cases. I was taken advantage of when I was drunk a couple of years ago and my nine year relationship broke down because of it. Things need to change

    • Diana December 29, 2017 at 6:51 pm · Reply

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. You are right. Things do need to change. They MUST change. I want to come up with a way for hostel booking engines to be able to let hostels know in order to be listed on their sites, they must not have any staff reports of assault and also have a disclaimer letting people know if they are assaulted in a hostel, they can report it anonymously to them and they will open a case report or something. I am sure this happens ALL THE TIME.

  7. Noelle December 29, 2017 at 10:55 pm · Reply

    Diana, I have stayed in that hostel (assuming the photo is of the hostels bar) and I remember an Eastern European bartender who semi flirted with me that night (fortunately I found a group of people to hang out with right after). I wonder if it’s the same guy 😟 This was in April 2017.

    Regardless, I’m so sorry that this happened.

    • Diana December 30, 2017 at 6:29 pm · Reply

      Thank you for reaching out. I emailed you. But yes, I’d be willing to bet it is. I’m glad you were safe. <3 <3 Thank you for your support!

  8. Ella December 30, 2017 at 10:07 pm · Reply

    You’re right it’s a conversation that needs to be had. I find tht most men struggle to understand because a. They have no idea what it’s like to always be on the lookout, always wondering and b. Most would never do something like that on any level so they can’t believe it’s so prevalent. Neither is an excuse but understanding why someone responds a certain way can help in finding a way to make them understand. I’ve been lucky to make some not great decisions but end up fine – and too many women close to me have not. Or had their trust betrayed by a boyfriend or friend.
    Don’t beat yourself up. Even if you had been trying to get rip roaring drunk, it doesn’t give anyone the right to negate or neglect clear consent. I hope you can get through this – warmest and strongest thoughts for you!

    • Diana December 31, 2017 at 5:40 pm · Reply

      Thank you for your love and support. I don’t think men realize that consent — even if a woman seems like she wants to be with them and is engaging with them — does not exist when someone is blackout drunk. It is sexual assault.

  9. Julia December 31, 2017 at 10:05 pm · Reply

    This is going to sound silly, but as I was reading this, I wished i’d been there. Having drinks with you, chatting, warding this guy off. It makes me sick to think of someone taking advantage of their position like this and I wouldn’t wish it on any woman (because unfortunately most of us have been there at some point in our lives). I really hope this doesn’t taint your travels in the future and that you can move forward at some point and regain your love for solo travel 🙁 xx

    • Diana January 1, 2018 at 10:46 pm · Reply

      It doesn’t sound silly, it sounds kind and caring and supportive. In all honesty, this has been such a hard time for me – especially after the hostel owner told me I simply got “hammered” and was not an innocent girl, and reading these comments from women around the world makes me ugly cry in the most humbled and honored sense. It won’t taint my travels, but it has definitely made me more aware. And far more empowered than I’ve ever been. I’ve discovered a new mission, and it’s to make sure hostels know what sexual assault means and what predatory behavior means, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure other women never have to tolerate this from staff. Thank you for your love and support. I hope our paths finally cross one day! <3

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