Friday, August 23, 2013

A response to RoseChasm’s CNN iReport

I have been reluctant to post on this topic, but given the enormous volume of chatter online about this article and given that the author is a college student from my home institution,* I feel ethically obliged to give some kind of response. For those who have not yet read it, I advise everyone read the following CNN iReport “India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear,”written by a University of Chicago undergrad writing under the pseudonym RoseChasm. The author’s real name is now public knowledge due to the The recent CNN article covering the worldwide responses to RoseChasm’s piece, however to preserve her ‘privacy’ I choose to refer to her by the handle she used for the iReport.  Before you read further into this response, I encourage everyone to click on the link above and either read or re-read RoseChasm’s report.

RoseChasm was one in a group of college students that went to India for a 3-month trip, mostly unsupervised, but (as I understand it) somewhat organized by faculty the University of Chicago.  As she reports, throughout her trip she was regularly harassed in public, violated on numerous occasions, and survived two attempted sexual assaults in a 48-hour period. At least one other girl in her group was also the victim of an attempted sexual assault. After returning to Chicago, she started experiencing anxiety, depression, etc. and sought psychological help. She was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and is now on a temporary medical leave of absence from the University. This much is uncontroversial and documented in her iReport.

What is apparently controversial is the way she tells her story. RoseChasm frames her experiences in a way which forms a personal testimonial about the violence she suffered. There is no attempt to make arguments for how India can change, there is no attempt to nuance why or how this violence occurred, and there is no attempt to distinguish between Indian men who enact this violence and Indian men who are respectful of women. In short, her piece is not a scholarly attempt to describe a phenomena. It is a testimonial, written from the perspective of a traumatized college student, sharing her story in an attempt  to bring greater public awareness. 

RoseChasm opens her report with the following:

When people ask me about my experience studying abroad in India, I always face the same dilemma. How does one convey the contradiction that over the past few months has torn my life apart, and convey it in a single succinct sentence? 

“India was wonderful," I go with, "but extremely dangerous for women.” Part of me dreads the follow-up questions, and part of me hopes for more. I'm torn between believing in the efficacy of truth, and being wary of how much truth people want.

 
Because, how do I describe my three months in the University of Chicago Indian civilizations program when it was half dream, half nightmare? Which half do I give

 
Do I tell them about our first night in the city of Pune, when we danced in the Ganesha festival, and leave it at that? Or do I go on and tell them how the festival actually stopped when the American women started dancing, so that we looked around to see a circle of men filming our every move?
 

Do I tell them about bargaining at the bazaar for beautiful saris costing a few dollars a piece, and not mention the men who stood watching us, who would push by us, clawing at our breasts and groins?
 

When people compliment me on my Indian sandals, do I talk about the man who stalked me for forty-five minutes after I purchased them, until I yelled in his face in a busy crowd? 
Do I describe the lovely hotel in Goa when my strongest memory of it was lying hunched in a fetal position, holding a pair of scissors with the door bolted shut, while the staff member of the hotel who had tried to rape my roommate called me over and over, and breathing into the phone?   

These events that she details in her report form a cohesive narrative about her travel experiences. While RoseChasm had many pleasant and positive experiences, the memories of (at least some of these) is tainted by the traumatic experiences that followed. She reports the tension she faced when friends and family asked her about her travels. This is a tension I think many of us who travel face, though perhaps to lesser degrees. For me, travel more generally is a complex series of experiences, not all of which are positive.  If your experiences include intense forms of harassment or other potentially traumatic events, the complexities are even greater.  It can be challenging enough simply to process the complexities of travel experiences, let alone create narratives to be consumed by friends and family. Yet when I return from travel (to the US), I find I am bombarded by people seemingly wanting to live vicariously through me, wanting to experience all the joys of my travel (but none of the sorrows) and so it appears I have little choice. Everyone expects an exciting, happy story. But what happens when, like RoseChasm, you don’t have one to sell? This in part, is what to me is compelling about RoseChasm’s piece. It reminds us of the burden of responsibility we often place on travelers to come back and report happy travel stories.  
 
If we treat RoseChasm’s piece as a scholarly assessment of fact, it is of course hugely problematic. The framing device RoseChasm uses necessitates her identify discrete positive experiences which were in some way tainted by the more traumatic experiences.  Criticism has been levied by some, arguing that the particular positive experiences RoseChasm identifies depict an India that is an Orientalist consumerist paradise: an exotic place full of opportunities for cheap shopping and exciting activities such as public dancing at religious festivals, etc. This paradise is then contrasted with RoseChasm’s traumatic experiences of violence which then depict an alternate India as savage and violent. In this narrative, there is seemingly no middle ground for an ordinary (non-paradise) existence in India or for an Indian voice (male or female) to arise. Perhaps for some (under-educated) readers of this CNN report might conclude that India is a horrible violent place and no one should visit. The recent CNN article covering the worldwide responses to RoseChasm’s piece certainly thinks this an issue.
 
A female student from the same program wrote an iReport in response to RoseChasm titled “Same India—Different Story” under the pseudonym twoseat criticizing RoseChasms’s failure to include an Indian (or other minority) voice. Twoseat reports:

As the only black woman (and individual in general) on the trip, I can definitely say that I had a very unique experience in my program. Men stared at me in India. Women stared at me. Children and teenagers stared at me. All the time. I wanted to become invisible in the crowd. I felt that I stood out even more because I stood out very starkly from the Indian population and especially from my white and Asian peers. I was also targeted with harassment, and I felt violated many times on the trip. However, in my experiences in India, I have met a solid handful of warm and honest Indian men- men who are also college students, men who also love the thrill of riding on a motorcycle in the busy streets, men who defended me at necessary times, and men who took the time to get to know me and my culture. And that should not at all be surprising.

So why should all Indian men be subjected to judgment for the rapes that some men have committed? RoseChasm does not address the fact that there are warm and honest men in India. When we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.
Twoseat makes a very valid point. RoseChasm’s account does appear to generalize Indian men and fails to address the fact that this violence will have been enacted only by a certain small percentage of Indian men. Regarding RoseChasm’s report, twoseat says:

I believe that [she] had every right to tell her story, but I wanted to alleviate the burden that it put on many Indians and other people in general. I had no intention of lessening the significance of her experience. I just wanted to highlight the dangers in writing such a one-sided piece on a population.
An Indian woman from Bangalore named Meera Vijayan also responds to RoseChasm under in an iReport titled “India: a Different View.” If you visit her profile page you’ll see Meera has written iReports on various topics relating to gender-based violence in India. Meera tells the CNN reporter:

I was inspired to respond because I am an Indian girl who has faced similar experiences that Michaela Cross describes on her ireport. Sexual harassment is common in India. And this can be frightening and traumatic for anyone who travels here. The air of hopelessness for women here is frustrating and I wish that things change. However, I know that although I have faced sexual harassment, there is a side to India that one can truly enjoy and appreciate. And given the heavy air of cynicism about the Indian mindset (which truly is deeply chauvinist), I wanted to point out, on a positive note, that one can also have a beautiful experience here.
Meera opens her iReport with the following statement:

I wanted to post this in response to the video of ireporter Michaela Cross's account of what the situation is like in India. First of all, I wanted to express my deepest regret for what she faced. As a girl, who lives here in India, and who has faced several similar experiences I wanted to take this moment to tell you all - yes, this is a side of India that is a reality to most young women who reside here or for that matter travel here.
Meera then expresses her concern that foreigners such as RoseChasm may judge India (and Indians) in an unfairly harsh way for the harassment experiences they endure and encourages foreigners to open up more while traveling:   

One, as a foreigner, be it a man or a woman, I know that it's an extremely different cultural environment here in India. And sometimes, unless you are in a city, it is common to be stared at. It is definitely not uncommon for people to express an interest to how foreigners dress or behave in public. This can be incredibly uncomfortable, but often times, the tension can be easily broken by merely ignoring this unless you truly sense physical danger. Sometimes not understanding the complexities of Indian life can make you judge its people rather harshly.

Second, I definitely would really advise female travelers to practice caution when making decisions such as travelling alone at night or being anywhere where you aren't quite sure about. It is a fact that it isn't safe. I have been stalked before and groped as well, and these experiences can be frightening and traumatic. But that said, this shouldn't stop you from living your life and exploring India. While India can largely be unsafe, you cannot stereotype a whole nation. Remember, people will always be alien to you if you wish to see them as alien to your life. Once you open up, it is often a very different experience. You will form stronger bonds, understand the situation better and have a positive experience while here. Yes, I find it infuriating that women have so much to fear but then women also have so much to look forward to. And we shouldn't forget that. I think I will leave it here saying - Yes, there are many things wrong about India, but then there is a lot of good too. And that's true of every country, isn't it?
While encouraging American travelers to open up while traveling is generally something I would agree with (I think as a nation we tend to spend too much time when traveling connecting with other foreigners rather than connecting with locals!), I’m not certain how Meera’s advice would help someone like RoseChasm, whose experience of harassment in India far exceeded a mere “interest to how foreigners dress or behave in public.” Is public masturbation now an accepted form of expressing curious interest in foreigners? I assume of course that Meera’a target audience is not RoseChasm, but rather future travelers to India who might be reading articles addressing violence against women in India. One thing I greatly appreciate about Meera’s response is the fact that while encouraging foreign travelers to remain open, and look for safe ways to travel to and and enjoy India, she does not try to defend Indian men, nor does she in any was try to lessen RoseChasm’s experience.
 
However other respondent’s comments are much less supportive. Polly Hwang, a Korean-American female who has traveled to India over the past 5 years with her Indian boyfriend, wrote an iReport in response titled “People who Generalize are Evil: My Response to Michaela Cross's Experiences in India.” As you may guess from the title, this iReport is far from a scholarly critique of perceived one-sidedness of RoseChasm’s report. Rather it reads like a polemic, blaming Michaela (RoseChasm) for all of her traumatic experiences. My favorite paragraph is the following:
 

Why was I not sexually harassed? It could be that I was just plain lucky. It could also be the fact that I took a lot of precautions to avoid dangerous areas, wear appropriate clothing, behave appropriately etc. Not to chastise Rose Chasm in anyway but she should not have been dancing in the Ganesha street festival known for its hordes of extremely drunk young men. She should not have stayed in cheap shady hostels in Goa which I'm sure had no positive online reviews. She should not be flipping fingers at locals and most importantly, she should have left after her first incident of sexual harassment, instead of staying for over 90 days and developing PTSD. I'm not victim shaming in any way, the pigs who tormented Rose Chasm take 100% of the blame. However as foreigners, it's our responsibility to be aware of how to behave and live in the local culture.
 
Well Polly, if you are not intending to engage in victim-blaming, you might want to reconsider attributing all the harassment and ill-treatment RoseChasm experienced to the apparent “choices” she made in India (public dancing, choice of hotel, etc.).  As foreigners it is certainly our responsibility to “be aware of how to behave and live in the local culture.” But that does not mean that if we experience violence (as harassment and attempted sexual assault are), that this too is our responsibility. The unfortunate truth is there is no method or strategy  that can guarantee freedom from harassment. There is no way to 100% prevent the possibility of sexual assault. Individual choices we make in life may impact the risk of encountering some form of violence, certainly. But that does not mean that if we do experience violence, the violence is our responsibility as well. The responsibility and fault always lies with the attacker. Anything else is victim-blaming. Even if we do everything in our power to reduce risk, there is no guarantee of safety anywhere in the world, let alone India. Would you have foreigners hide themselves in expensive (rather than “seedy”) luxurious hotels apart from the way locals live to increase their safety? Would you have women traveling solo hide in their hotel room all day and night long unless accompanied by a friend? Because those are the only ways I know of to completely avoid the risk the public harassment. And sadly, even that is no guarantee of personal safety as I have received reports of even expensive hotels in various parts of India where the staff attempts to assault or harass solo women travelers. Even RoseChasm's "choice" to stay in India long enough to "develop PTSD" is apparently to blame in Polly's account. Now granted if someone is experiencing traumatic experiences while traveling, I would agree it is likely healthier for them to leave a trip earlier than expected if their finances permit. But leaving early isn't always an option for people. There's also the fact that PTSD by it's definition is "post-traumatic," meaning symptoms are experienced only after the trauma is experienced and thus leaving early would not necessarily prevent PTSD nor is it easy to predict when or if someone will experience PTSD. Every statement Polly writes in this paragraph starts with the phrase "she should," implying that RoseChasm is responsible for the violence she experienced in India and the trauma she endured as a result because of things she either did or didn't do. If the author of this response was hoping to dispel misconceptions regarding foreign women's experiences in India, I fear she fell far from the mark. On the contrary, it seems this author contributed a few new misconceptions. 


If what we hope to find in RoseChasm's piece is a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of gender-based violence in India, then there are certainly plenty of problems with her account. But I find it highly unlikely that this was in fact RoseChasm’s intent. From my reading of her piece, RoseChasm’s iReport is a testimonial of her personal experience in India, written in response to all the friends and family members who demand exciting, happy travel stories  from someone whose experience didn’t allow her to generate them.  As RoseChasm herself says in the closing line of her piece: “This is the story you don't want to hear when you ask me about India. But this is the story you need.” Because of her traumatic experiences, RoseChasm could not fully participate in that ritual so many of us feel obliged to endure when we return from a trip—the sharing of travel stories. Because no one wants to hear a downer. Rather than shutting down and avoiding discussing her experiences, she chose to make it fully public and open to critique from others and eventually released her real name to the media.
 
RoseChasm’s iReport is an act of bravery. It takes courage to share experiences like this in a public forum, in a way that leaves you open and vulnerable for attack and criticism. This is something I understand all too well. Every time I click “publish” on one of these entries I experience a new dose of terror, knowing that I have placed yet another personal experience relating to harassment on the internet in a truly public forum available for everyone to read, analyze and criticize. I write and post about these issues, not because it is easy for me, but rather because it isn’t easy for me.  As long as one person benefits from what I write, the risk is worth it to me. But then again, I have never shared an experience so personal as what RoseChasm wrote. And for that alone, if nothing else, she has earned my respect and admiration.  
 
Before I finish, there is one more issue I think should be addressed if we are to fully benefit from RoseChasm’s story. As a public educator, I am highly invested in providing students and other travelers with resources to enable them to travel safely. RoseChasm’s experience greatly concerns me. Is there a way we could have better prepared her for her travels? How do we prepare students for study abroad programs in places like India, Egypt and Kenya with record-high percentages of harassment and sexual assault? Is there a better way she could have been supported while on her trip or after returning? I have no hard-and-fast answers, merely vague ideas. So I want to open these issues up for discussion. I welcome your responses to this post, but I request everyone be polite and respectful.  What are your thoughts regarding how we can best prepare solo women travelers heading to India, Egypt, Kenya, and other places with high rates of harassment and assault? What are your responses to RoseChasm’s (or anyone else’s) iReport?
 
 
*Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of the University of Chicago, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or any of its affiliated faculty or staff members. The views contained therein are solely the opinions of this author and should not be taken as representing the University of Chicago or any of its representatives.

37 comments:

  1. Your article was very interesting! Rose's article is I completed , she has to say both positive and negative experiances . She only said the negative experiances. She would defenetly had some good experiances. But she intentionally hide that experiances , she only try to blame indians. Really doubted her credibility , she posted a video on YouTube maned "Namaste Bitches". She has used the word "bitches" . How can a good girl who came from a good family or good environment can post a video named namaste bitches? It seem to me that, she is not a perfect girl. Coz she useed a sexual word in you tube. I am an indian , so I know India is a men dominated country . Men's are superior to women. This is came from Hindu scriptures . Like God Shive and Parvati. Indians are practicing this culture for a long long time. When girls are crossing the line , that would make problems. Because that is not the culture. More over India has almost 40 languages which means every states have their own languages as well as culture. She sated that she escaped two times from rape within 48 hours. My question is who made that second rape attempt situation? Indians or she? She already escaped from a rape attempt then why she didnt learn a lesson? Which means both of them were mistaken . So that her article doesn't have any credibility .

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  2. Your article was very interesting! Rose's article is not completed

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  3. The comment made by the anonymous Indian man here is disgusting and does not represent all Indian men. Unfortunately it's these misogynistic women blaming backwards Indian men that make all Indian men look bad. I say this as an Indian man living in India.

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  5. RoseChasm is certainly not directly responsible for the violence she experienced, but as Polly Hwang said, she did not take reasonable precautions to avoid such experience. Dancing in the festival for example. The objective in going to India is not to change India, but to study and learn, I assume. Changing conditions faced by women in India will take a long time. But that is the reality, and so one has to understand the challenges one could face in India as a traveler (and specifically as a woman) and then take proper precautions to avoid getting into such situations, and have an exit strategy if one gets into one. I am not blaming the victim, but just pointing out the facts. One should be prepared to deal with staring, they stare because they are curious of the skin color and hair color - one cannot pass a law making staring illegal and implement such a law, and changing the culture to avoid staring, particularly in the rural areas where the locals probably have never seen a white person will take a very long time. So if someone is sensitive to staring, either prepare to get used to it, or do not go to India. To use the "should have" term, she should have studied these aspects of the culture before she went there. Rape attempts do not generally happen in reasonably good hotels. And not all Indian men are bad, all she has to do is to make a lot of noise, some of those good Indian men would help her in that hotel to prevent the rape attempt. Having visited India many times, it is clear that she did many things that actually put her in more jeopardy (bargaining on the street, buying things from crowded bazaar, dancing in the festival, etc.). I think other than the staring (there is absolutely nothing one can do about that), all the other bad experience she outlined could have been avoided with some precautions. Even with all these precautions, things could go very wrong; and of course it is the perpetrator who is at fault. But we are talking here about how to have a safe trip knowing the realities of the place we visit (eg. I would love to visit the Swat valley in Pakistan, beautiful place, but I know I may not come back if I do that. I can complain all I want about Pakistani talibans, but that is not going to change the reality one bit). But in RoseChasm's case, it seems like reasonable precautions could have avoided many or most of these troubles. As she wrote, she was not well prepared for the trip.

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    1. I agree with what Anonymous says. I assure everyone that I understand the importance of not 'blaming the victim'. I am posting this comment anonymously because I do not want to deal with a lifetime of maligning that can follow from pointing out the stupidity of a harassed person. I think that it was wrong of the writer to single out Polly Hwang for condemnation, when she did make valid points based on her experience as a foreigner traveling in India.

      Should RoseChasm's account be taken at face value? There is reason to believe that it should not be. RoseChasm had a number of videos posted on Youtube detailing how much she was enjoying her time (and behaving obnoxiously) in India - including videos posted right after her time in the Ganesha festival. At no point during the videos did she mention any form of harassment, or even male attention. She had clearly been enjoying herself. Why, then, this harsh and unsubstantiated account, months later?

      Is it victim blaming when Polly Hwang (and I, too) are curious to know why she "sat against the door holding a pair of scissors" instead of contacting her Indian professor (who was also in the same hotel) or her fellow travelers or contacting the police? Will a stable adult woman who is traveling the world be unwilling to take these precautions? If this is questioned, and if the very veracity of her blistering account is brought under the scanner, why should this be labeled as 'victim shaming'?

      Following the attention that RoseChasm's article received, another of her fellow travelers wrote instances of being sexually harassed in India. These included: *drumroll* ... 1. Being sexually groped in Mumbai International Airport - one of the most heavily guarded places in India and under constant CCTV surveillance 2. Security guards at the airport asking to make her picture their cellphone's screensaver (PUH-LEASE!) 3. Being photographed in a 3AC compartment, which ended when she ... threw the cellphone out of the window!!! Male security guards do not frisk female passengers, and 3AC compartments do not have windows that can be opened. Obvious liar is obvious.

      Disclaimer: I do not know Polly Hwang or anyone else personally. I just disagree with the mindset of deploring any objectivity as 'victim shaming'.

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  6. As an academic who has traveled to India and lived in the northern hill region for five months while teaching there, I have to say that I agree with "anonymous" who makes the point that there is a difference between blaming the victim and being attentive to, and respecting, the local culture. I agree that dancing in the streets, "flipping" people off, etc. could be viewed as sexual or hostile acts in some places in India - and most likely provoke the kind of "unwanted" attention that Rose describes. I am a sociologist who is all-too aware of the dangers of blaming the victim. I am also a feminist and humanist who believes in equality and justice. But, as "anonymous" says, patriarchal structures and cultures exist - and there are costs for pushing up against them.. one has to be aware of the costs. When I was in Delhi, I purchased clothing that I thought would be appropriate for teaching in the hills. Could I have ignored cultural norms? Yes. But I figured that, if I wanted people to respect me, I should show respect for them. I had absolutely no problem with unwanted gestures, looks, or behaviors while in India - Delhi or the hills. Granted, I am not in my 20s. However, as a woman, I was treated with respect and kindness everywhere I went. I was more than cautious, given the reports I had read (mostly media reports such as the one written by Rose). I was on the lookout for Indian men jumping out of the bushes and alleys. That is not what I found. I was, however, bitten by a dog the day before leaving the hill region. If it were not for the group of men who were working on repairing a road nearby - who came immediately to my rescue with sticks to get the dog away from me - I don't know where I'd be today.. I was treated at the state hospital there, but they were not equipped to provide the necessary vaccines (because people in the area cannot afford to buy it, and the hospital cannot afford to store it). The day I left to go to Delhi (where I was fortunately staying for a day before flying out - so could be treated there), the workers (men) at the guest house where I lived during my stay insisted on accompanying me to Delhi to be sure I was safe and well (I wasn't feeling very well at the time). Finally, because of their persistence, I agreed that one of them could accompany me. This man traveled with me on the five-hour trip (on washed out mountain roads) by jeep/cab to Delhi to ensure my safely. This man, who is poor and trying to feed his family on the low wages paid by the guest house, took the time from his work to travel with me. He didn't even want the money I offered to pay his way back (by train, probably standing all the way)... So, this was my experience with men in India. Whether professionals, informal workers, or students - they were without exception kind and respectful. I am not wanted to argue that what happened to Rose should never happen - anywhere. Women should not be objectified, exploited, raped - ever. This is an unacceptable way to treat people. But to make this a problem specific to India is wrong. Patriarchy exists all over the world.. The U.S. media is more guilty of portraying women as sexual objects than that of other countries. This is partly why some men in India and elsewhere think that Western women are "loose." Of course, no one deserves to be raped - and no mean no.. Period..

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  7. Continued...

    Ironically, as I was reading Rose's account, it brought me back to my 20s, when I was raped on three different occasions, in the U.S. - once in high school, once in college, and once by an employer. My interests as a sociologist have definitely been inspired by my own experiences as a woman in society. I am very understanding of the pain Rose experienced. No one should ever be violated, humiliated, controlled.. Her story is a horrendous testimony to the viciousness of our world.. We don't treat each other very well.. We enter into war and kills thousands without blinking an eye. We torture animals so that we can enjoy our Big Macs.. I would urge those who read Rose's account not to be afraid to travel to India. Of all the places I have been, it is my absolute favorite.. Yes, the food is incredible, the clothing colorful, the music wonderful, the spirituality inspiring -- but most of all I love the people. The men and women who - without exception - were warm, kind, beyond helpful to me. Whenever we are in a place, a culture, different than our own, we should be careful. We should be reserved until we know the appropriate ways to behave and appear.. But please don't be afraid of India or Indian people. I am returning next spring. I cannot wait!!

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    1. Dear India Denise,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your story. I too would like to encourage those who read RoseChasm's story to not avoid India. I think India is an amazing place with amazing people and I sincerely want to see many people travel there (safely). That's what motivated me to start this blog. After meeting so many women who were discouraged by their harassment experiences and didn't want to return to India, I wanted to reach out and provide resources for those traveling to help them feel more empowered when they travel and travel more safely. Like you pointed out in your first reply, I think education and awareness of the local culture and how your actions may be perceived is key for this. I really liked the way your phrased it here:

      "patriarchal structures and cultures exist - and there are costs for pushing up against them.. one has to be aware of the costs."

      I think that is a very helpful way of describing the situation. I agree that dancing in public is good example of an action that would be interpreted as sexual in India. Without knowing the full contexts of the other situations of harassment I would hesitate however to generalize to say that she must have done something in all these instances that connoted sexuality. Even wearing local clothing, covering my hair, avoiding eye contact with (let alone conversation with) men on the road--in short obeying all the cultural norms of my region (and then some!)--did not prevent me from being harassed daily during my recent stay in Sarnath. And of course Indian women, who fully understand the culture and are less likely to make the same kinds of cultural 'mistakes' are harassed and assaulted. I agree that RoseChasm was considerably less than ideally prepared for her trip. However for me that brings up the issue of how prepared someone has to be to visit India safely? I think that cultural differences make places like India particularly difficult for Western women to navigate. Guidebooks do little to prepare female travelers. I don't think it should be necessary for someone to have to have a Bachelor's degree's worth of knowledge about Indian culture to visit safely, though I am starting to think that may be what is necessary nowadays. There any many things about Indian culture than are completely counter-intuitive to Westerners and that makes navigating harassment (or worse) much more complicated. As I'm sure you know, it's difficult enough sometimes to handle harassment in our own native culture. Dealing with it in a foreign culture where you may not even have a common language?

      I am very glad to hear you support India while still being understanding and supportive of RoseChasm's experiences. I have found that the most common responses to reports like this are either (1) to berate, belittle and otherwise verbally attack India as a country and Indian men more generally or on the opposite end of the spectrum (2) to defend India by denigrating people like RoseChasm, trying to discredit them in some way in order to invalidating their experience.

      I love India and want to see people (including women!) travel there safely. But in order to travel there safely, we need to be aware of the risks and dangers and that involves discussing issues of harassment and safety and sharing stories like those of RoseChasm. If we ignore--or worse, try to discredit!--someone like RoseChasm then we are simply ignoring the problem. Acknowledging the truth of the situation is necessary in order to help prepare others for travel so they can enjoy this country like we have (and will in the future!).

      Thank you again for your thoughts. I wish you safe travels for your return trip in the Spring!

      Best,
      Erin

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  8. India Denise, I think you would do a great service to India and Indian men if you could write a CNN IReport sharing your experiences and views. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Westerners who have read Rose's article have stereotyped India and Indian men in horrendous ways. Publishing your story can help undo some of that damage.

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  10. Hi Erin, I read RoseChasm's article. It almost moved me to tears after reading what she went through. But I also agree with Anonymous's comment above me. It is very easy for the media to stereotype all Indian men as sleazy and I also must add that the media takes a rape/assault in India more seriously than the same crime in Brazil and Israel. Have you read the comments on Huffington Post's article of the American raped in India? Horrid responses of clear hate on India and Indian men.

    As regards improving travel experiences. Finding a local Indian host families would help all solo female travelers especially young students like RoseChasm. Rotary Club India and Youth For Exchange are good organizations based in India that charge nothing but will help foreign women and students find trustworthy Indian families. Also, completely ignoring Indians doesn't work.

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    1. Dear Ganesh,

      Thank you for your words. I definitely understand your concerns. When I write these articles, I feel I am fighting a battle on two sides: One battle is against all those who write comments like the ones on the Huffington post article who denigrate and hate on India and India men. And the other battle is against those seemingly on the opposite end who in a misguided attempt to 'defend' India, work to discredit the experiences of those brave enough to share their stories as if suppressing these stories will somehow make India a safer place.

      I think it is important to talk about these issues because only then can we come up with creative solutions to help those who want to travel to India do so safely. I appreciate your suggestion about host families. In my experience that does generally help (though nothing is fool-proof and of course Indian women themselves are the target of harassment and assault as well). I work very hard to maintain a positive approach towards travel to India in my entries because I sincerely want people (including women) to feel safe to travel to India. I don't want to scare them off, but I do want to see them travel safely and not suffer as RoseChasm did. It's a challenge. Thank you for words and thanks for being a dedicated reader.

      Best,
      Erin

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    2. What have you got to say on other people's comments to this post? Do you think RoseChasm's story has been glorified and given more importance than it deserves? Do you think a CNN article on her experience is too much and trying to spread slander about India and Indians?

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    3. Dear Ganesh,

      I think it's clear by how I write about RoseChasm's experience in the above article (and in my replies to various comments) that I fully support her right to tell her story. I should also add that I don't generally have the time or energy to reply to every single person's comment otherwise I would never get any of my actual research work done, so I am generally quite selective about replies and reply only when I actually have something specific to say in response. You bring up an important point though-it's a concern I have heard voiced often and I think it's important to address.

      The issue of slander is one that comes up a lot especially when I talk with Indians about this subject. The vast majority of responses I get to reports such as RoseChasm's fall under two camps: (1) people (Indian and Western) who are horrified at these stories and blame India or Indian men at large and (2) those who seem to feel a reflexive need to defend "India" as though the country itself and all it representatives are under attack.

      I am not of either camp. I fully believe that people can have an honest conversation about something truly terrible, such as violence against women in India, and still support Indian people. Honesty in conversation is not the same thing as slander. If we talk about violence as something to be addressed with the goal of supporting victims of violence and helping prepare those who want to travel to India do so safely, and finding ways to help Indian women be more safe, then we can still be in support of India and it's people (minus the harassers/rapists). If I was writing and argued that no one should visit India because of all the problems, then yes that would be slander. But I don't write in that way. And in my opinion, neither does RoseChasm. She never once says she regrets going to India. And she never once tells people they should avoid India, nor does she suggest people reconsider going to India. What she actually says is that her experience is mixed. She had some really positive experiences, but for her they (at the moment because of her PTSD) are marred, tainted, by the harassment and attempted assaults. I think this is an honest and fair account of her personal experience. She does not generalize and argue that everyone else will suffer as she does. She merely states that this is her story. It's not the travel story her friends and family were expecting or wanting to hear, but it is her personal story.

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    4. ....continued....

      I think the CNN article discussing RoseChasm's report (and other reports) is poorly written for sure. But is it trying to spread slander about Indian people? I don't think so. The CNN article merely echoes the concern of people all over the world reacting to the rise of reported gang-rapes and rapes/assault/harassment of foreigners traveling in India. And I think this concern is justified. Do I think India or Indian men are the blame for these problems? No. I think the Indian government and police forces have long been too lax on enforcing the perfectly good rules that India has in place for dealing with these problems and maybe, just maybe, these types of reports will be embarrassing enough for Indian officials to actually do something to enforce their laws to make *all* women--Indian and foreign--safer in India. That is my hope.

      When people complain about "slander" in this case (while there are exceptions, such as you Ganesh) they generally aren't complaining that the articles are too biased in one direction and arguing for a more nuanced approach to violence in India. They are arguing that the subject matter shouldn't even discussed because to even talk about it and report it is to give India a bad name. This is suppression of truth. And this is denying the voice of victims--both Indian and foreign--and I strongly disagree with this approach. I do not think honesty and slander need go hand in hand. I believe honest discussion of painful and terrible topics is the first necessary step towards social and political change. I likewise find it important and necessary to honestly talk about violence in America as well (and do so on other forums not titled "Traveling While Female") because until we acknowledge the problem exists, we can do nothing to change it.

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    5. Hi Erin, I really didn't want you to give a response to every comment under this article. You don't understand the effect of your blog and its articles on people who are reading it. You talk about having honest discussions on violence against women in India - well you should. But I think you shouldn't make it so big that you have to discuss every bit of it on this blog. When you say 'India has a sexual harassment problem - big time'; you are actually conveying that it is a colossal issue that needs to be addressed before anything else. When CNN writes about RoseChasm's ireport, they title it 'Sexual Harassment in India' like as if sexual harassment was a part of India, its people and living. When an unbiased reader(especially from the west) is asked what he thinks after reading these reports/articles, he or she immediately develops a negative image of loathe about India and its people. And this is guaranteed to happen to a majority of the western community because believe it or not, people in the west are more judgemental than anybody else, especially caucasians(both Americans and Europeans) and people in the west hardly know about India(I bet you & your friends knew NOTHING about India/Indians during high school). So, when an unlettered man or woman reads RoseChasms story, they develop a negative notion about India or Indians. Ask yourself, what would your opinion of Indian men/India would have been if you read all these rape stories on women in India when you were in your teens or early 20s or if you hadn't traveled to India at all? Wouldn't it be negative, hateful? Experiment this if you want with someone who knows very little about India and you would realize that its echoing of concern of people all around the world would seem untrue. I am sure you have good intentions behind this blog.

      I appreciate the effort you take in mitigating the violence in India by educating people and teaching self-defense. But seriously, do you really think that's necessary? First of all, you've come to India to pursue your research. Take my advice; only do what you are there to do. Secondly, before you delve into such issues on harassment on women in India(a country that is not yours) and you think that truth should not be suppressed, I believe you should vehemently talk about your own country's problem in social media viz, racial discrimination etc. An Indian parent will definitely teach you this aphorism - Never complain about the mess others have made when you've made a mess yourself. It's very easy for you to talk about the necessity of an honest talk on violence in America. If we tried writing or publicizing Americans problems, we could get deported. Trust me, CNN/Huffington Post/BBC would never approve such an honest talk. If you dig through the CNN/BBC or any other major news media reports you will never see articles beginning with the heading 'Racist America' or 'Racism in Australia'. Did CNN write such articles on Indians beaten up in Australia? Because the caucasians have a history of crime, violence and atrocities against non-whites - the media doesn't want their reputation tainted even more. Media has become very adept at carefuly defending anything that is American or Caucasian.

      So long story short, a caucasian voice/opinion can be heard more powerfully in media - so be careful of the words you use especially when you describe the magnanimity of this issue on sexual harassment. Also, the pain of a caucasian or an atrocity on a caucasian is dealt with more severity than the same on an Indian or any non-white.














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    6. Dear Ganesh,
      I would like to respond to a few of your points for clarification.

      You say "When you say 'India has a sexual harassment problem - big time'; you are actually conveying that it is a colossal issue that needs to be addressed before anything else. When CNN writes about RoseChasm's ireport, they title it 'Sexual Harassment in India' like as if sexual harassment was a part of India, its people and living."

      I have to disagree with you there. First of all there is the issue of audience. The vast majority of my blog's readers are foreign female travelers, female students, and scholars trying to prepare their female students for travel to India. These are not ignorant or under-educated high school students who know nothing about India or the rest of the world. My audience (thankfully) is considerably more educated than this and will already know that India has a sexual harassment problem. I now also have a sizable number of South Asian readers as well, which I am very grateful. I hope they can benefit from the Self Defense tools I share. The point is, my audience is not the same as CNN. My audience is people who will already know about harassment problems in India. The fact that sexual harassment (in particular street harassment) is a major issue in India has been well known for decades and the contents of my blog will be no big surprise to anyone. What my blog contributes is the perspective of a young white female scholar who has spent significant time in various parts of North India and who is also trained in Self Defense techniques, both verbal and non-verbal. I know that my experiences and my training can benefit many women (and men), which I why I share this. I write this not because I think India is the only country with problems. But because India is a country I care deeply about. I have friends and people I consider family there. I want to see Indian women safe and I want to see foreign women safe when they travel. I am a public educator. I am a teacher. And I want my students, current and future to be safe when traveling to India. And so I write to educate. And if through my blog my voice can make a difference then I will continue to write.

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    7. Secondly, as a clarification: I also come to India to do Violence Prevention work. I have done consulting work for a Self Defense center in Delhi which is affiliated with the Self Defense Center I work with in Chicago and have assisted with one of their classes before. They happen to share the same Self Defense curriculum as my center in Chicago. This Noida Self Defense group is run by Indian men and women and they run programs for Indian men, women, and children. I am regularly in communication with this group, even while in Chicago and have assisted with their curriculum development. Likewise, when I was in Sarnath, ostensibly just for research, the youngest daughter of my host family asked me (yes, she asked me) to meet with her and teach her some self defense things. So after a long day of research I would go home and teach 17-year-old Apu Self Defense on the roof of her house in Sarnath. There is a growing demand and a growing need for Self-Defense-related programming throughout India. I care about India and so I am doing what I can to help women--both Indian and foreign. Most scholars who do research in a foreign country end up being involved in something local and do volunteer work. It's actually more unusual when scholars are *not* active in some way or another. Many scholars teach English or teach computer skills, etc. I teach Self Defense and write about it. The only difference between what I am doing and what others do is that my work has earned me greater visibility than others' work because of recent events in India such as the Delhi gang-rape. I'm very sorry that you don't understand the need for this kind of volunteer work.

      As for issues in the US, the Self Defense group that I volunteer for in Chicago also does extensive programming regarding issues such as bullying, racist speech and acts, and other social issues specific to the US. As part of their center, I work with those issues as well. I would never deny the importance of countering racism in the US. And in fact my fiance and I jointly run a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/theprogressivethinktank) dedicated to socially progressive political issues such as countering racist and sexist and other discrimination-based discourses and acts, as well as other political issues in the US. But as a scholar regularly traveling to India (and a teacher preparing students regularly traveling to India), my personal concern is for my students, colleagues and friends who live in India, travel to India or who may someday travel to India. And my concern is for my Indian friends and family who live in India.

      I know that if I were an Indian woman living in the US and writing this blog I might receive less public attention. And that too is a very unfortunate fact. But that makes the work I do all the more important--because my work does reach people. I want Indian women and foreign women to be safe and free to be in public and walk the streets as freely as men do in India. I am sorry that you disagree. And I am sorry to hear that your concern for India's PR image is greater than your concern for India's women. I want my readers to love India for the country that it can be--a warm, welcoming place where women are valued and safe. I have experienced this warmth and this welcoming spirit many times over. But right now, pervasive hate and disrespect of women and a tacit social acceptance of displaying this disrespect towards women in public is dominant and so many foreign women that come to India don't have the opportunity to experience this. If you want foreign men and women to see the India that you and I both see, then I'd recommend you and I both work to support women in India. What will you do to help the cause?

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    8. Hi Erin, I now realize that your definition of the word 'slander' is just as distorted as your definition of the word 'promiscuous'. You are bluffing yourself into believing that your readers are foreign female travelers only. You are also bluffing yourself by believing that your readers have adequate knowledge about India and its problems. If RoseChasm knew about India, she would have taken enough precautions to prevent herself from becoming a victim of PTSD.

      I have never ever belittled the plight of women(Indian and foreign)who've had bad experiences in India, but I do think India's image is important. Having a negative image doesn't affect our ego(many of us don't have an ego) but it does affect the way we are treated in other countries.

      Well that being said. My school begins this week and I think I wont be able to follow your blog as closely as I did in the last 3 months. My intentions behind every post/comment were not disrespectful. It was a pleasure having a good educated argument with you and getting to know more from a white woman. I wish you the very best in your research and I sincerely hope you make the best out of this blog.

      What can I do to help the cause? As of now, I can only do my part of treating women as my equal, standing up against any kind of injustice against women and encouraging every women I meet to follow your blog.


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  11. Rosechasm romanced her webcam for months on YouTube, not ONCE did she mention any kind of sexual harassment. She made fun of just about everything and giggled while showing the folks back home a quasi-shrine she and a friend threw together featuring one of the holiest Goddess figures and stupidly identifying her as a man. I am reluctant to find her story believable, I think CNN did not do their homework on this girl before they enabled her 15 minutes of fame.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,
      After reading your reply, I went back and watched (and rewatched) the youtube videos RoseChasm posted. I think you and I have very different understandings of how those videos went. My experience with reaching out to family and friends while traveling (as these videos were intended to be) is that you tend to scramble to search for quick and happy soundbites from travel "stories" to share. When you are updating your family and friends for a quick video, you are not going to share something terrifying or disturbing. That is something better reserved for a private phone call back home.

      I myself throughout my travels posted many "happy" updates on Facebook and Twitters, etc. but rarely mentioned anything about my harassment experiences. Why? Because updates in a public forum like that where people would just worry about me is not the appropriate setting! You don't want people worrying while you're traveling so you do your best to find exciting happy things to post about. And leave the difficult conversations for when you see people in person. Harassment (and attempted assault) is a very personal and difficult topic of conversation for most people. In fact had RoseChasm mentioned anything in her videos I would have been quite surprised. Generally the effects of harassment are only realized and felt long-term (except immediately after extreme circumstances), so I find it plausible as her story suggests that she didn't really realize the depth of her trauma until returning to Chicago.

      As to her giggling and creating a "quasi-shrine," I think you are perhaps a lot less charitable to this woman than me. From my perspective she is a young college student, barely a woman (approximately 19) who came to India to learn more about Indian culture and religion. Along the way she is bound to be confused by the many Hindu deities around. As I recall from her video, she found this statue on the side of the road (on the ground which is far from a respectable place for it to be left!) and "rescued" it (her own words) without even knowing which deity it is! To me this sounds like quite the opposite of what you describe. Picking up a statue off the ground where it was near people's feet and capable of being destroyed and creating a shrine (as best she knew how) for it indicates an attempt to respect the deity and Indian culture. And like most young women, when she is uncomfortable or unsure about something, she giggles to release tension. That doesn't necessarily indicate she doesn't take it seriously--that means she is aware that this feels foreign to her. And that is natural for most people. I'm sorry that you see this as an act of disrespect. I see it differently. I think that to step outside of your comfort zone and your culture to do something like creating an altar for a deity you don't know within the cultural rules of a culture you don't entirely know is not a disrespectful act. Her lack of knowledge of who the deity was didn't stop her from trying to respect it by creating a shrine for it. Anyway, this is just my perspective. Whenever anyone visits a foreign country they will make cultural mistakes. This is unavoidable, no matter how much you know and no matter how good-intentioned you may be. Understanding India can be very hard for people outside of Indian culture. But just as I wouldn't expect everyone to understand everything about American culture before coming to visit the US, I would hope that you wouldn't expect an American to know everything about Indian culture before visiting.

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    2. You must really read Ms. Cross's experiences on http://thelifeandtimesofanamericannomad.blogspot.com/2012_10_01_archive.html

      It's nothing but hateful and she does nothing but loathe everything going around her. Even some of her friends suggest that she is being too negative and pessimistic. Earlier, I was sympathetic but after reading her posts on her blog, I don't feel so bad for her.

      As far as the picking up of the statue from the ground goes; it should not be done. Firstly a statue should not be destroyed and even if destroyed or sullied, should not be fixed or glued and cleaned for preservation. It should be replaced. So yeah, Ms. Cross was ignorant and disrespectful.

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    3. You must really read Ms. Cross's experiences on http://thelifeandtimesofanamericannomad.blogspot.com/2012_10_01_archive.html

      It's nothing but hateful and she does nothing but loathe everything going around her. Even some of her friends suggest that she is being too negative and pessimistic. Earlier, I was sympathetic but after reading her posts on her blog, I don't feel so bad for her.

      As far as the picking up of the statue from the ground goes; it should not be done. Firstly a statue should not be destroyed and even if destroyed or sullied, should not be fixed or glued and cleaned for preservation. It should be replaced. So yeah, Ms. Cross was ignorant and disrespectful.

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  12. I am Asian Chinese. I have backpacked and hitchhiked in Australia and New Zealand. I have travelled in Germany and UK. I have studied in the US. I have worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, every country in Southeast Asia except Laos. I have travelled to Nepal 8 times. The country I have worked the longest in is India. I have never been in trouble. Sure, they stare at me when I walk the streets, and some people try to make friends, but I have never been accosted. I know it can get dangerous at night. I do not go out when it it pitch dark in the villages and I know women get raped going to the toilets. But in the cities, I do go out for drinks and smokes. I do not believe women should live in fear.

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  13. We actually at Mission Sharing Knowledge rebutted this strongly with an article first. What we saw though was more negative responses than positive as Indians from around the world bashed us saying you are not sympathizing with someone who faced a lot of ugly things in our country. Our faith though was not shaken and we dug deep. This is what we found. Here is a report on how this female lied unabashedly as she enjoyed her stay in India and still bashed the nation. Unfortunately the video since then has been removed, but the points from the video is still there. Take a decision after reading this folks.

    http://missionsharingknowledge.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/ms-rose-chasm-the-cross-who-double-crossed-us/

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  15. Hi Erin, I came across this on Facebook. It's very true and you should watch it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiOTwYIO5f0

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Ganesh for sharing this. I very much enjoyed it. Funny, yet poignant!

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  17. Hi Erin, I'd like to share this video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8hC0Ng_ajpY

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ganesh,

      What a powerful and evocative video. Thank you for sharing!

      Best,
      Erin

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  18. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.
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  19. Good article. Thanks.

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