Things You Can Do to Minimize the Risks of Sexual Misconduct 

Sexual assault and rape are prevalent globally, and no one is immune. While female-identifying students are statistically more susceptible, students of any gender identity should exercise caution and awareness. Sexual assault can happen at any time or place. It is important to remember that sexual violence is never your fault.

While your classmates have already shared some helpful advice online (, we’ve outlined additional or reinforced some of the same points below to help you minimize your risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault while studying abroad:

  • Research your study abroad location and local culture to be aware of and better understand cultural norms (including gender issues), appropriate dress, interpersonal communication, conceptions of personal space, and areas/neighborhoods to avoid.
  • Learn the unwritten rules of your host culture during the early stages of your study abroad program. Past GEO program participants suggest getting together several times with fellow students to discuss what does and does not work in regards to dealing with unwanted attention.
  • Take cues from locals. Look at how they dress and interact with strangers. Although you may want to express your own individuality, keep in mind that the way you dress may attract unwanted attention from men and women alike. Try not to look like a tourist, as the outward appearance of being wealthy or foreign could lead to being targeted.
  • Drink in moderation and do not take drugs. Being intoxicated can make you a target for predators because of impaired judgment and reduced capacity to protect yourself. If you are drinking in excess, make sure you are with friends and keep track of each other.
  • Trust your instincts. You should never do something you are not comfortable with, and remember it’s okay to say no. If you feel cornered by someone, look for a way to get out of the situation and seek help immediately.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Walk confidently and act like you know where you’re going. Avoid poorly lit, deserted areas and try not to walk alone, especially at night. Avoid walking with headphones or earbuds in.
  • When out, travel with a group. Make sure to stay together and don’t leave anyone behind.
  • Do not respond to any catcalls that you receive. Just walk on.
  • If you have to wait somewhere alone, like in a train station, stay near other women or families. This may help keep you from being harassed or approached.
  • Don’t open a residence door to strangers if you are alone or feel uncomfortable.
  • Check the legality of “self-defense” items in your host country before traveling abroad. Be aware that in certain countries, mace, pepper spray, and other such “self-defense” items are considered weapons and may be illegal to carry. Check on this before you try to carry these items into a host country.
  • Know the emergency number for your host country. It is not necessarily 911 as it is here in the United States. ( Be sure to write this 911 equivalent down and/or save it into the phone you’ll be using while abroad. You should also save the mobile phone numbers of your program/faculty directors and on-site support staff, just in case you ever need to reach them. If you don’t know these numbers, you should ask for them.

Bystander Intervention

You should also know that incorporating practices such as bystander intervention into your daily life is an important way to help keep yourself (and your friends) safe while abroad. The goal of bystander intervention strategies is to change social norms so that everyone is looking out for one another. This strategy empowers both male and female students on study abroad programs to intervene with their peers in order to help prevent an assault from taking place. It is important that everyone remains extra vigilant while abroad and does their best to prevent themselves and others from ending up in threatening situations.

For more information on bystander intervention strategies, take a look at the following resources:


This content adapted from Overseas Security Advisory Council, United States Department of State Addressing Sexual Assault While Abroad, 2015.


Sexual Misconduct on Study Away

Duke University is committed to encouraging and sustaining a living and learning community that is free from harassment, violence, and discrimination. Familiarize yourself with Duke’s sexual misconduct policies and the options for reporting, both confidential and non-confidential.

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