With the media sensationalising more and more high profile cases of backpackers and gap year travellers in Australia becoming victims of serious crimes, questions are being asked whether or not Australia is becoming too dangerous for young female backpackers.
A recent dramatic rescue by Australian police has brought to light the case of a young British backpacker who had been kidnapped, held against her will and repeatedly beaten and raped during a two month ordeal that began at the start of January this year.
Reports are of course still vague at the time of writing, but it is believed the woman had been travelling since 2015 and had not been reported missing. She was being driven across the state of Queensland by her kidnapper who she allegedly met at a party and had a short relationship with before that relationship turned sour and he began holding her against her will. Reports say he had destroyed her passport and kept to out of the way places to prevent her escaping and getting help.
She was rescued after a clerk at a gas station saw her and raised the alarm after she drove off without paying for petrol, police later found the man who was holding her hiding in the back of the car.
It was essentially a stroke of luck that ended what could have been a much more prolonged and possibly ultimately fatal ordeal, and the man has now been charged with multiple accounts of deprivation of liberty, actual bodily harm, rape and numerous other offences.
Is the fear of this happening to you justified?
This incident has of course raised an uproar in the media, with other high profile cases of backpackers being raped or sexually assaulted being brought back up and cited in these reports, some of them from many years ago. The result of which is that many potential backpackers now even more afraid of travelling to Australia than they would have been before, and that is a huge problem, because a lot of that fear is unjustified.
Saying that in no way lessens the horrific nature or the seriousness of sexual assault or rape when it happens. It is truly one of the most horrendous crimes that anyone can become a victim of. Neither does it lessen the personal impact it has on each and every victim.
Neither does it lessen the genuine concern women in general have over becoming a victim of this crime. It is a genuine concern and one that is to an extent understandable. But only up to an extent.
Both of these two separate things, the actual risk of becoming a victim and the perceived fear of it have to be taken in context and they have to be judged within that context too.
Yes these terrible crimes do happen. They happen in Australia just like they do in every other country around the world. The levels of rape and sexual assault in Australia for example are relatively comparable to the UK.
It is a massive jump from that however to saying that these crimes are the norm, that all backpackers are at high risk and that Australia is an unsafe country which travellers – female travellers in particular – should avoid.
There is a massive difference between the fear of a potential crime and the actual risk of it happening to you.
This fear is to an extent understandable. The worlds media sells that fear. They peddle shock value because that is what sells and then ramps them up to unnatural proportions. They would have everyone believe that the world is full of rapists and murderers just waiting to target every single tourist the moment they get off the plane. It warps travellers perceptions of the risk they face and makes them far more afraid than they need to be.
This recent case is horrific beyond belief and I have all the sympathy in the world for the young woman involved, and each and every case that has been highlighted before is equally as tragic if not more so. But it is important to remember that they are still very much in the minority. They are all still very much abnormal. They become so high profile sometimes purely because of how rare they are.
The realities of the actual risk.
According to the Office For National Statistics and the Foreign Commonwealth Office the numbers of victims of crime needing help are actually very low. The evidence shows that out of the 8 million and change UK citizens who travelled to Australia between 2015 and 2016, only 367 travellers needed consular assistance in Australia for every type of issue. And even though instances of rape did rise slightly from previous years those who needed help because they were victims of serious crimes – the ones the majority of people are afraid of – such as violent assault or rape are a fraction of that. Hundreds, out of over 8 million. Even taking into account that many rapes or sexual assaults will not be recorded, we can safely triple that number to take that into account and it will still be hundreds or at best low thousands out of 8 million plus!
Again, that is not saying these crimes do not happen nor that they aren’t absolutely shocking and unspeakable. But they are not as prevalent as people think. Even the British Crime Survey in studies done on an annual basis over a twenty year period suggest that women in particular have a fear of crime that far outstrips their actual risk.
So please do not imagine for one second that Australia is anything less than the amazing, wonderful and generally safe destination that it absolutely is.
Go to Australia. Enjoy the sights and have fun with the generally awesome and friendly people you will meet there, local and traveller alike. Take reasonable common sense safety precautions exactly like you would do at home, don’t get so drunk you lose control, if you are heading somewhere remote and away from civilisation let people know where you are and when you will be back and take extra precautions, do your research on where you are going and how to minimise any risks or dangers, and odds are you will have an awesome time and come back home safe and sound just like the 8.26 million other visitors to Australia every single year.
Take reasonable precautions for your safety, but don’t be afraid.
Australia is an amazing country, and it is in general a pretty safe one too. So use the tips in the travel safety section as well as the more detailed knowledge and advice in my books to give you the knowledge and the confidence to help keep yourself safe, and then get out there and enjoy your travels!
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