Lillie’s Story: Aggravating Attention Abroad

I knew that working in India as a single, light-skinned woman who did not speak a word of any Indian languages would not be a walk in the park. However, I was not expecting the onslaught and veritable inundation of street harassment. I live in Goa, which is known to be one of India’s most liberal, progressive provinces. But stepping outside my home near my job, I would never know it.

At first, I thought the constant calls of “Hello, beautiful!” and “Be my girlfriend!”or “Give me your number!” were just harmless fun, trying to grab the attention of an obvious tourist. I had a rude awakening of that when a man outside my apartment complex told me he loved me. I laughed it off as he reached out to shake my hand. When I gave it to him to shake, he wouldn’t let go, and took my hand and attempted to shove it down his pants. I managed to get away and ran back into my apartment, where my roommate, a Ghanian man, was as shocked about the ordeal as I was.

That’s another way we’ve been harassed here in Goa. As we’re living together (we’re colleagues and work at the same NGO), my Ghanian roommate and I go out to eat rather frequently. I’ve grown to accept that people will stare at the two of us when we’re together or when we’re alone, but people will also say very racist things to the both of us and constantly take pictures of us, with or without our consent. Again, at first I didn’t mind this and attributed it to the fact that we were a novelty. However, as people continued to treat us like we were some toy to be played with, I became a little less happy with the situation. This experience was epitomized by one night when my roommate and I went out to a club. People were constantly asking for our pictures, and finally, wanting to have a good night and not pose for photos the whole time, we started saying no. Instead of accepting that answer, locals would grab us by the arm, leg, and (I can’t say they did this to him, but they definitely did it to me) butt, and drag us into pictures and dances. Men kept taking my drinks from me, drinking out of them, and throwing them on the floor. I started to flip off the camera or do the “WoW” symbol with my face every time they forced me into pictures with them unwillingly, so if you see any of those on the internet, know that I didn’t want them taken and those people are not my friends – in fact, from the way they treated us, I sort of doubt that they considered my roommate and I as particularly human. After about two hours of being paraded around as some sort of carnival freaks merely because of the color of our skin, a security guard noticed and escorted US out, saying we were causing too much of a stir – doing nothing about the others. All of this happened at the biggest (and perhaps most touristy) club in Baga – Tito’s Beach Club.

In the town that I live, I’ve been followed down streets, photographed without my consent, chased after, grabbed, and groped. Men have tried to pay me for sex constantly, offering 400 rupees (about $8) if I’ll have sex with them, and not relenting until I start yelling. In perhaps what was the scariest instance while I’ve been here, I took a wrong turn on the way back from work. I’d been working late, so it was dark, and I was alone. First, a security guard tried to force me to come into an apartment complex, saying that it was where I lived. Because I am not an idiot, I knew was not mine. Luckily enough, a cab was nearby and I hopped inside. My fears were not quelled as the driver took me on some roundabout, clearly incorrect way of getting to the place that I was going. As I knew where we were and were going into a much less populated area, I demanded he let me out of the car. He wouldn’t, but when I opened my window and made a scene he started to drive directly towards my apartment. There, he wouldn’t let me out of the cab, insisting we go get coffee or that he let me inside. I wouldn’t do it, and was struggling to find the lock for the door when the security guard from my apartment complex came over and asked what was happening. After a conversation with the cabbie in the local language, the cabbie demanded my phone number and he said he would leave, if I would go to get coffee with him tomorrow. I didn’t see that I had any choice, so I gave him my number. Since then, he has called or texted me saying he loves me every single day, trying to meet up. It’s been 2 weeks. I’ve blocked his number, but he keeps calling on friends’ phones or getting friends to call me and ask me if I’m still in Goa. At this point, since he knows where I live, I’m actually pretty worried he’s going to show up outside my apartment.  I really wish I’d gotten his license plate.

I knew that working in India as a white female wouldn’t be easy. But really, it would be a breeze if the harassment would stop.

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  1. Jess says:

    Lillie,
    I’m so sorry to hear the dehumanizing treatment you put up with on a daily basis because you are trying to do HELPFUL, international work! I hope you find a way to minimize your risk and get through the rest of the time there safely…I will be warning any women I know who plan to travel to Goa.

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