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A study done by the APA found that 27.5 percent of women reported at least one experience of nonconsensual sexual contact while abroad. | Courtesy of Hernán Piñera/ Creative Commons

This Wednesday, the Penn Women’s Center and Penn Abroad held an informational session to discuss helpful tips and advice about ways to avoid situations that could elicit sexual harassment or violence while studying abroad.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are reoccurring problems on American college campuses, but the session stressed that is also a global problem and that most sexual assault victims who study abroad are women.

A study done by the American Psychological Association found that 38.1 percent of the sample reported some type of unwanted sexual experience while abroad, and 27.5 percent of women reported at least one experience of nonconsensual sexual contact while abroad.

Jessica Mertz, the director of sexual violence prevention and education at Penn, first discussed how going abroad is comparable to entering freshman year.

“Similar to freshman year, you want to explore new things and put yourself out there, which puts you in a more vulnerable state,” Mertz said. “Unfortunately, predators often target these vulnerabilities.”

According to the sexual assault climate survey released by the American Association of Universities this fall, the highest rates of sexual assault for female underclassmen at Penn were of freshmen (22.8 percent), with a steady decline over sophomore (15.3 percent), junior (12.7 percent) and senior (10.7 percent) years.

Preventative measures were then discussed to empower both women and men to feel safer in their new environments abroad.

These precautions included being aware of cultural norms and not looking like a tourist, which might include wearing more conservative clothing or avoiding wearing graphic T-shirts with obscene images or language. In addition, it’s important to not walk alone at night or in unfamiliar neighborhoods without doing research to make sure the area is safe.

The Penn Study Abroad website explains that it is important to understand a host country’s culture’s attitudes toward gender roles, different religion and sexual orientation and to know local laws and political circumstances.

Overall, Mertz emphasized to trust one’s instincts — if something seems not right, one should remove yourself from the situation.

“While studying abroad, you might want to always be adventurous, but it’s okay to say no or to turn down invitations,” Mertz said.

However, if someone is sexually assaulted while studying abroad, Mertz affirmed that all of the resources here at Penn are available, like the Women’s Center and CAPS.

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