Health & Safety

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Iowa State University considers sexual harassment and sexual assault to be an issue of safety. Your safety is vital to having a positive, successful study abroad experience. Therefore, we share the following to inform and invite you to critically consider how you can reduce your risk of harassment or assault.

Be aware of stereotypes host nationals may have about North American women and men

Stereotypes are very much a part of daily life. People make assumptions about others based on cues, rather than based on their experiences with that individual. People in other countries have often heard stereotypes of American college students, and/or seen stereotypical behavior portrayed in film. It is important to both think about how you may stereotype others, but also, how you may be stereotyped too. Common stereotypes of Americans may include speaking loudly, traveling in large groups, and being sexual active. This last stereotype could lead to experiencing harassment while abroad. Just as students need to be aware of sexual assault in the United States, it is also important to remain vigilant while studying abroad. Here are a few situations to be mindful of and to watch out for while abroad:

  • Catcalls – being called after using words or a whistle typically while passing by another person
    • Recommendation: Avoid making eye contact or engaging with this person at all. Any engagement may be taken as a sign of interest, whether or not that is your intention.
  • Physical groping – being inappropriately touched. Occurs most often in crowded areas such as on public transportation, at concerts, or in a bar.
    • Recommendation: Stick with a friend and try to avoid being isolated. Ask them to stop and then report to authority. If the person does not stop, leave the space with a friend as soon as safely possible.
  • Being offered a ride by a friend of a friend or a relative of your host family
    • Recommendation: Decline the offer. Avoid putting yourself in a position where you have no control and are alone with a stranger. There have been students who were in this situation and accepted the ride and were later sexually assaulted.
  • Returning to your room with someone you just met or going to the room of someone you just met
    • Recommendation: In some countries, going home with someone is seen as a form of consent. We know in the US consent must be verbal, but other countries do not have the same understanding of consent. Avoid putting yourself in a position where you have no control and are alone with a stranger. There have been students who were in this situation and were later sexually assaulted.
  • Being offered a free drink for a stranger or bartender or having an unattended drink
    • Recommendation: Do not accept a drink from a stranger as there is the possibility of the drink having a date rape drug. Also, when you order a drink, watch the bartender to make sure the drink is not tampered with. The same goes for an unattended drink. If you leave your drink unattended for any period of time, do not continue to drink it as someone could have tampered with it. If you suspect you have ingested a date rape drug, it is best to leave with a trusted friend and seek medical attention.

As you can see from most of these scenarios, it is good to have a trusted friend around. You can help each other make good decisions, and also make sure each other gets home safely at the end of a night out. Most importantly, remember that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault!

Talk to us

We cannot stress enough how important it is to report these behaviors to a program director or study abroad officials so that we can take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of something happening to other participants. Feelings of guilt after more serious events are common, but please let us know so we can help you get the support you need and deserve. Know before you go (and ask again when you arrive): Gender roles and stereotypes? Harassment issues? Places that are unsafe? Prevalence of date rape drugs? STDs, HIV, contraception: things I should know about my site?

Resources for dealing with sexual harassment are found on the ISU website at