Is Australia Becoming Too Dangerous For Backpackers Fearful Of Sexual Assault?

Solo female backpacker traveler safety

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 Crime Survey of England and Wales 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!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.


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Gap Year Safety: The Ultimate Guide For Safely Travelling The World For Sale Now!

Solo Female Backpacker: Guide To Safely Travelling The World For Sale Now!

Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.

Solo MALE Backpacker Safety Tips.

The Reality Of Fear And The Truth About Travel Safety.

Top 10 Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.

Travel Safety Advice. The Good, The Bad And The Downright Crazy.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Travel Safety
53 comments on “Is Australia Becoming Too Dangerous For Backpackers Fearful Of Sexual Assault?
  1. failong says:

    Having said that though, in places like OZ and NZ there is quite a surprising number of attacks on foreigners, not only Brits btw, but there has been many shocking cases…for a so-called 1 st world country definitely…I would still be extremely careful if I am a female in those parts…

    • Sigh, I think you missed the entire point of the article. There are attacks and crimes against travellers yes, but they are hardly surprising or huge in numbers, and you should take reasonable precautions anywhere you go to protect your safety, it doesn’t matter at all if you are a man or a woman.

  2. Samantha says:

    This is horrible, I do think the media play up the sensational side of it definitely, but it is still something that backpackers do need to be concerned about, especially women.

    • It is horrible yes, but as long as travellers take reasonable precautions, reduce their own risk and travel safely, they really don’t have to worry too much about it at all, man or woman.

  3. Michelle Heggarty says:

    Absolutely right. I really feel for the poor woman who has gone through this ordeal (and in fact any other woman who goes through it) but it is no reason to assume that all backpackers are at risk or that the risk to women is any higher than it actually is. I travelled through Australia twice, my first time as part of a longer gap year, and I never felt overly unsafe and nothing happened to me at all.

  4. Jay Barrett says:

    No it isn’t at all. You are so right in that these things happen (and yes the mongrels who do it should be strung up no doubt) but they are rare. People need to put things in perspective.

  5. Kim says:

    I think Australia is still a safe place for backpackers. Crime happens but it isn’t exactly an epedemic. I think your point about taking reasonable precautions is absolutely right, from what I have seen and heard a lot of the time bad things tend to happen when people aren’t careful or haven’t taken the right precautions. That isn’t defending these crimes by the way, it is just putting them in perspective.

  6. Constance says:

    Don’t need the media to tell me about all the bad people in the world-as a woman, there are plenty of jerks who remind me to fear for my safety with catcalls and threats almost every single day at home!

    If you have to be careful and take precaution everywhere you go, including at home, you might as well travel and see the world. I feel deeply for the woman you mentioned. Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t her desire to travel, it was the fact that you can’t rid the world of terrible people.

    There have definitely been places that I’ve traveled to where I’ve had worse experiences with being a woman than in other places, but you’re right, you have to take precautions just like you would at home! Learning additional safety techniques and using them when you’re out of your comfort zone can only benefit you in the long run no matter where you are.

    Thanks for the great article!

    • That’s it exactly Constance, there are terrible people everywhere and anywhere, and awesome people everywhere too. Refusing to travel anywhere doesn’t necessarily mean nothing will happen to you at home, and that goes for men just as much as it does women. That is why it is important to do your research, have the right knowledge, skills and advice to reduce any potential risk as much as possible and then you can travel anywhere safe in the knowledge that you have done as much as you can to protect yourself. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. alicesgapyearadventures says:

    I totally agree with you, Australia is no safer or more dangerous than anywhere else, especially other Western destinations! This was a horrible isolated incident but that is all it was and it is not right for the media to say Australia is unsafe because of it.

  8. Ben says:

    Every time you get out of bed you put yourself at risk. Anything can happen anywhere.

  9. Shiela Rees says:

    No it isnt. Crime exists like it does everywhere but relatively isolated incidents arent reason to say whole countries are dangerous all the time.

  10. Chris says:

    No of course not. I don’t think anyone would disagree at how awful any of these crimes are, especially rape, but that is no cause for mass panic. Bad things can happen to anyone at any time.

  11. Eliza says:

    Nice read, but I still do think that women have to be extremely careful as the fact is they are more at risk there than men.

    • That’s the whole point I was trying to make Eliza, that isn’t the fact at all. The actual fact is that they are at far less risk of all other violent types of crime with the exception of sexual assault than men, and far less likely to become a victim than many people think.

      • Christina says:

        I’m looking at the actual reports you refer to, and with the exception of “death” I don’t see your point. These are comparing things like lost passports, hospitalizations, drug arrests etc.? These aren’t violent types of crime in these reports. Also, what about being sexually harassed? Does that not count for anything?

        Experiences like these can’t be put into accurate numbers in reports.

        Most women I know have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I was too, while travelling.
        That hasn’t stopped me from travelling, but don’t diminish the experiences of people who are actually women by speaking for them. I don’t know what life is like for a man. I have no right to speak about experiences as a man. So don’t do that for women.

      • First of all I’m not speaking for women or their experiences, I’m referencing cold, hard fact. Statistics. My gender has no bearing on my ability to do that.

        Second of all I think you have misunderstood the statistics themselves. The statistics I referenced from the FCO do not compare different crimes or rank them in order of importance, the numbers simply include ALL incidents where travelers have been victims of a crime and needed consular assistance. All of them. And yes that does include lost passports etc but it also includes sexual assault, rape, and other violent crimes. Not comparing, simply adding up. And the numbers show that yes, whilst these crimes do happen, they are statistically quite rare. The British Crime survey again shows that female fear of crime is far greater than their chance of becoming a victim. This has remained the case every single year for decades. If you are referring to the types of violent crime then yes women are at more risk of sexual assault, however men are at far greater risk of all other forms of violent crime including assault/battery, violent muggings or robbery with assault, murder, manslaughter, etc. You want more statistics? How about the Australian Institute of Criminology? They do not have numbers specific to travellers but for every Australian woman the rates of actual sexual assault victimisation was 80 per 100,000 of the population, or how about kidnap? That was 3 per 100,000 population in 2012 (the last available statistics I have to hand).

        Is even one case too much? Of course it is. To infer that I think otherwise is wrong. But these numbers speak for themselves. The FACT is that numbers of serious violent crime and sexual assault against women are very low, the numbers of travellers becoming victims is very low too. This is fact. So on that basis it is reasonable to argue that on the whole female travellers have a low risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime or a sexual assault. The vast majority of female travellers will head off on their travels and come back safe and sound. You say that most women you know have been a victim. Really? Because I find that highly unlikely unless you are changing the definition of what assault is.

        Does that mean these crimes do not happen? Of course not. That is why I give safety advice and tips specifically to reduce the (low, but still) risk to themselves even further, and always advise taking reasonable common sense precautions and staying alert. Even though the majority of safety precautions and ways to reduce risk are gender neutral, I have even written a number of posts and other material aimed specifically at and for women. But what it does mean is that when these crimes do happen, they are generally isolated incidents (again, hundreds, out of millions of travellers) and cannot ever be assumed to be the norm or that any given country or travel itself is dangerous, and especially dangerous for women. It is not.

        Do those facts mean I am diminishing the experiences of women who have gone through these terrible crimes? No, they do not, and if you think it does I suggest you read my post again. I say very specifically that the individual experiences are horrific and cannot be dismissed or diminished, but I do say that the facts and evidence shows that they can not be taken as the norm.

    • Marcus says:

      Why? Show me in the statistics in this very article that say travel is more dangerous for women. It isn’t.

    • Eliza says:

      Of course it is! Women are at high risk of being sexually assaulted or raped. Men just aren’t. Fact.

  12. Sam says:

    You are so right, this was absolutely a horrible incident and it should – on it’s own merits for a lack of a better word – serve as a reminder for people to take the same precautions for their own safety and have the same self-awareness as they would anywhere else in the world, but this is no reason to say an entire country is unsafe. Great post.

  13. Nicola Price says:

    Excellent piece, as you say I think Australia in general is very safe, especially if you take steps to look after yourself and you are aware of your surroundings, but just like anywhere else in the world there are going to be bad people (I’ll refrain from swearing) who will be out to do you harm, and it is all about not putting yourself in those situations where they can do just that. I love Australia and I have never once felt unsafe or at risk there, and I urge every traveller to come here at least once and see just how amazing and safe it is for yourselves!

  14. Vicki Paige says:

    Yes Australia is an amazing country and it is without doubt safe to travel through! A few incidents like this shouldn’t encourage any woman from travelling there. Thanks for this post.

  15. Sarah says:

    I would personally never say Australia is too dangerous no. As others have said crimes like this happen all over the world, they aren’t localised to one place. Women (and men, you are right) do need to take steps to stay safe, but that should be part of your everyday life skills routine anyway, travelling or not. It is knowing how to di this when travelling that is important.

  16. Marcus says:

    Oh god I really hate it when stories like this come up. Women have to realise that their personal fear is not reality. Just because they are afraid of a specific crime, that doesn’t mean they are at increased risk or any given place is so dangerous it should be avoided. Just because rape is a horrible crime and all women are afraid of it that doesnt mean that there is an epidemic or that every man is a potential rapist. Yes it happens and yes you should be reasonably cautious, but that is a long way from promoting this ridiculous culture of fear. I hear all the time how much more difficult it is for women to travel because they could be raped, or how much braver, stronger or more empowered they are if they do travel just because they are women. Have they heard themselves? Well of course they have because they are all patting each other on the back and being self congratulatory for doing something us men do without thinking. Yes there are risks, there are risks for both men and women, but lets not pretend that female risk is far greater than it is just because they are scared more.

    • Harshly put but not exactly wrong either Marcus. As I have said countless times the statistics from 20 years of the British Crime Survey show that women do have a higher fear of vioent crime in particular but are statistically much less likely to actually become victims, and when that is added to the actual crime rate percentages for travellers who are victims – which are extremely low – that disproportionate fear is even more pronounced.

    • Eliza says:

      Oh my god are you even being serious? You have no idea what it is like to travel as a woman, and being a man you can’t know what it is like to be at risk of being sexually assaulted and raped just for travelling somewhere new and going about your own business. No man has the right to do that.

      • Marcus says:

        Oh right okay, so just because I am a man I can’t understand. Is that as sexist as me saying to you because you are a woman you are incapable of understanding facts, figures and statistics? Because that seems to be the case. Go back, re read the article, look at the actual statistics.

  17. Khaleesi says:

    Thanks for this. I admit the stories in the media did unnerve me a bit but you are absolutely right you need to look at the bigger picture. And I read your safety tips for women post too, amazing! Thank you for the advice and the reassurance.

  18. Michelle says:

    I’ve never been to Australia but plan to in the future and have absolutely no fear of doing so. Stories like this are of course horrible but they are one offs. It is stupid to think that the whole country is dangerous or that women are always at risk, and I love the fact that you show the actual statistics to give everyone a good dose of common sense on both counts! Great job!

  19. Kelly says:

    I read your headline before I read the article and was going to come on here and have serious words about how you shouldn’t be spreading fear like that! I’m glad to see your article wasn’t what I thought it would be! Haha! I do agree with you completely that there is far too much scaremongering about travel in general, and when things like this happen that just gets worse. Great article. 🙂

  20. Amanda McTuerney says:

    As an Australian I found all the media scaremongering really offensive. Yes we have crime here just like anywhere but on the whole travellers are welcome and safe if they just use basic common sense safety precautions. Thanks for giving a balanced article on this.

  21. Adam says:

    You’re right, one incident cant be seen as a norm.

  22. Hannah says:

    This is spot on! I love it! I wish there were more articles like this in the mainstream media.

  23. Kerry Davidson says:

    Such an amazing post, I loved reading it. (I’ll even forgive you for the clickbaity title!)

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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