When I read last week about the two female backpackers who were raped and murdered in Ecuador, I was simultaneously heartbroken and angered.
Heartbroken by the brutal end to the lives of two beautiful wanderers who were living out a dream, and angered by that fact that their end was brought about by the selfish cruelty of men who wanted something that was not offered — and felt they had the right to go and take it anyway.
My anger grew as I read in the following days about how people were taking to social media to blame the young women for their fate, saying, basically, that by choosing to travel alone as young females, they brought it upon themselves.
And I’m not alone.
Young female solo travellers around the world have taken to Twitter to protest this victim-blaming mentality that persists, and to claim their independence and freedom, using the hashtag, #viajosola (“I travel alone.”)
As a 20-something female who spends a fair amount of time traveling alone, this issue feels very personal to me. I am grateful to be alive, but could hardly say I’ve made it through unscathed. And to be honest, my attitude about that for a few years was that it was to be expected – that it was just the way things were, so I just needed to deal.
But one day I stopped thinking it was normal or to be expected or okay, and this entire (and, unfortunately, extremely prevalent) idea that a woman brings any sort of assault upon herself by her clothes, her mannerisms, traveling alone, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, makes me want to scream in rage and hurt and frustration.
Having a vagina shouldn’t automatically put you in danger.
No woman is ever asking for it.
No one brings being raped and murdered upon themselves.
Being born a female should not condemn you to a life of looking over your shoulder and questioning your every choice, from wardrobe to lifestyle to relationships to travel, simply to remain un-assaulted.
Being born a man does not give you the right to take something just because you desire it. What about if, instead of teaching girls how not to dress, behave, etc., men were taught to be decent human beings?
Maria and Marina, whatever the next life looks like, I hope you journey on in peace. I grieve for you. I grieve for your families and loved ones, for your unfulfilled dreams, and unfinished bucket lists, and for your legacies that have been so cruelly turned against you, when what should be focused on is the beauty of two lives lived and loved wholeheartedly.
Tonight, I’m imagining a world where every human being, man or woman, is able to climb a mountain, move to a new country, walk down a dark alley, or accept shelter from a stranger — all alone – and be safe. A world where little girls can be taught that it is okay to embrace their dreams, pursue their passions, voice their opinions, love and trust with abandon, wear whatever the f*ck they want, and roam the far corners of the earth to their wanderlust-fueled-heart’s content, without the fear of being mistreated by a man having to ever even cross their mind.
This world is everyone’s home, and to be safe in it should be everyone’s right.
“I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other woman ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.” (excerpt from a now-viral Facebook post written by Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta from the perspective of the victims.)
*I originally wrote this for Elephant Journal; original post can be seen here.