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I'm going on a trip alone, but I wonder if I should be prepared for being raped.

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Tash asks:

I'm going traveling alone soon, and do realize the risks of it. I've recently been thinking about the prospects of rape, I know it may not be more likely to happen in a foreign country than here, but I do live in one of the safest places in England, so I'm quite ignorant of the likelyness of it. I'm a virgin, and have no idea if it would hurt more than if I were not. I know it sounds like a stupid question but its not something I can discuss with anyone I know. Anyway, would it be worth losing my virginity prior to leaving on the off chance? I have no one in mind to lose it to, and I understand it needs to be with someone I trust and feel comfortable, I'm just confused and need some help. Thank you.

Heather Corinna replies:

Let me start by just filling you in on some realities of rape.

Most rapes do not occur with strangers unknown to the people they rape. They occur with people known to a victim: a friend, a neighbor, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a family member. Stranger rape only accounts for around 25% of all rapes. Most rapes also do not happen while someone is traveling: about 50% occur within a mile of a victim's home, with the majority of those happening right in a victim's home.

A neighborhood being safe also often doesn't translate when it comes to rape. In other words, rape being as prevalent as it is, and not generally being about strangers, we really can't say at this point that there are areas which are safe for women when it comes to sexual assault or domestic violence, particularly when we know that most women know -- and many trust or have trusted -- the people who rape or otherwise abuse them.

I don't say any of this to scare you, but rather to fill you in on what the real deal is. Your risks of rape are likely higher right where you are than they are on the road: a neighborhood being classified as safe generally means that things like robberies, muggings and stranger assaults happen less frequently. It doesn't mean women aren't beaten, raped or otherwise abused there in the most usual way women are: by people they know and are even close to.

I hate -- hate -- that women live in fear of rape to the point that it would cause someone like you to think like this about something which is probably going to be great for you, which you should be so excited about. I hate it as a survivor of rape myself, I hate it as a feminist, I hate it as someone who has a vested interest in all of us making the most of our lives while we've got'em for living.

It is reasonable and sound to live your life in such a way where you are mindful and diligent about your personal safety. But there is a balance to strike, where we're able to be mindful and cautious yet still enjoy our lives. If we go nuts to try and avoid any and every risk of harm, we will also often avoid any risk of experiencing the good stuff. And there's no sense in pussyfooting: to a large degree, there is only so much any of us can do to prevent being raped in the first place, and never leaving our houses or neighborhood isn't effective in that regard. Would that it were.

Hearing you thinking you should have sex now -- when it doesn't even sound like something you want -- with the idea that it would somehow blunt the trauma of rape, should it happen, also really troubles me. Thing is, if you are ever raped, it is going to be traumatic and painful no matter what your sexual history has been. In terms of the physical aspects, rape tends to physically hurt no matter what your sexual history has been: having had sex before will not likely make it hurt less. But even that's a bit moot since the physical pain of rape generally is not the most painful part, not by a long shot. It's the interpersonal and emotional aspects which tend to leave the lasting scars and hurt the deepest. It's how hard and long we often have to work to trust again, to live without fear again, to reclaim our zest and zeal for living and loving.

A possible rape would not be your first time having sex, because when we are raped, we are not having sex: we are being raped. In other words, trying to have chosen first-time sex now with the idea that it would keep rape from being first-time sex just doesn't make sense. While it may or may not be sex for a rapist, it would not be sex for you. Rape and wanted, consensual sex are totally different animals. If you go and make yourself have sex with someone when you don't really want to, with someone you don't have a real interest in, and make it about rape in this way, that strikes me as a way to potentially traumatize or undercut yourself, not a way to protect yourself. It also sounds like a particularly lousy first-time sex story that you probably don't want to have be yours. "My first time wasn't with anyone I particularly had interest in, but I did it in case I got raped in hopes rape would hurt less?" Jeepers: you deserve a better story and remembrance than that, gal.

You're going on a traveling adventure by yourself for the first time. While certainly, some of that is bound to make a person nervous, what a marvelous opportunity that is! I don't mean to get too cheeseball, but a person's -- heck, especially a woman's -- first solo voyage is such a milestone, and something you should relish when you're able to do that. Not everyone gets that opportunity, especially when they're young. If you're worried about all the worst things that could happen to you while away -- things just as likely if not more so, to happen right at home -- I'm worried you're going to miss out on something really great for you. In fact, it seems to me you're more at risk of losing or diminishing good opportunities than you are of being assaulted while pursuing them.

So, please don't worry about this any more than you would in any other place.

For sure, travel safely, and with the basics in mind. That means things like avoiding very isolated areas alone, keeping yourself aware of your surroundings, always keeping one hand free, wearing shoes you can easily walk fast in, letting someone -- even the front desk where you're staying -- know when you're coming and going. While sex or romance while traveling certainly happens sometimes and can be fantastic, be smart about it when it comes to your safety. Have your radar up for locals who might be looking to scam a visitor. I'm of the mind that no matter where women do or do not go that a basic self-defense course is always a great idea for women: you'll learn to defend yourself should you ever need to, and the confidence that tends to create in and of itself will often help keep you safe since predatory people tend to look for easy victims, not folks who look like they'd present a challenge. It's also a great idea when traveling alone as a woman to seek out other women in your hostel or hotel, even in places you're having meals: find some travel buddies when you're out and about (it can make traveling more fun, too: you may find you develop an awesome new friendship or two that way as a bonus of your trip).

Get a basic travel guide for where it is you're going and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land and local customs. That helps with your safety as well as with enjoying your trip. While you're shopping for books, I'd also suggest picking up a basic guide for women traveling, like A Journey of One's Own: Uncommon Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler by Thalia Zepatos, Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick, and Christina Henry de Tessan or Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo by Beth Whitman.

But mostly? Have sex with someone when it isn't about rape or avoiding pain, but when it is what you want, with someone you like or love, and when it is about sharing something together that is about pleasure and joy, not fear.

Get the heck out there in the world: have a magnificent, marvelous time. Trust your own instincts and don't let risks which exist no matter where you are blunt your spirit of adventure. Live your life! Be safe, by all means, but find that balance where you can be safe and not keep yourself locked in a tower. Rape is a crime that has a whole lot to do with power and control. It seems to me that if we let the threat and fear of rape keep us from our lives and great adventures that we let rapists win without them having to do anything at all, and that, too, is a crime.

Bon voyage: send us a postcard!

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