Going out for a few drinks in Italy? Imagine meeting someone inviting you into the VIP room, only you never make it because you are sexually assaulted in a unisex bathroom.

Meet Serena Bowes, it happened to her. The assault was reported to Italian police in Florence. Officers took her statements.  Ms. Bowes was taken to a hospital where she was examined.  Serena returned home.  Subsequently she was served papers for her arrest for libel and slander, accused of falsifying information. Extradition to Italy would cost her 12 years of her life in a guilty until proven innocent legal system.

The question of responsibility, duty to inform and duty of care arises when adult students study abroad, particularly on their free time.  In a United Kingdom Chronicle Live article, Carole Kitching, Principal at Newcastle College, is quoted as saying, “21 year-old student, Serena Bowes, told us about a serious assault whilst on a undergraduate College trip to Italy earlier this year. It took place during their free time, and as soon as staff were alerted they contacted the police and accompanied Serena, with the police to the hospital.”

Kudos to Carole Kitching and Newcastle College for help and support. Newcastle is rated among the highest academic institutes. American students are often left to their own resources on foreign soil when trips go bad, or worse placed in academic probation with their tuitions forfeited.  Title IX may soon apply to study abroad which could change rape crisis responses during study abroad for the better, hopefully.

Ms. Bowes’ has to retain legal counsel to defend her character and claim against her assailant and avoid prison.  Prosecuting sex crimes are difficult in our homeland. They can become a nightmare with the complexity of language barriers and very different legal systems in foreign countries.  In Serena’s case, the survivor of sexual assault appears to be victimized twice, a second time by the legal system.

In February of 2016, The Guardian published an article “Italian boss who groped female workers found not guilty of sexual harassment.” The article states, “Commentators and a trade union lambasted the ruling.  ‘The Palermo court’s sentence is worthy of lawmakers in Saudi Arabia, commentator Massimo Gramellini wrote in an opinion piece.  ‘The August assembly seems to suggest that the women who were felt up caused the real offense.’”

One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a 2013 World Health Organization study.  Julia Drost, the policy and advocacy associate in women’s human rights at Amnesty International USA, said such violence, “knows no national or cultural barriers.”

At home or traveling abroad you might do an Internet search on rape and sexual assault for the intended destination to see how the legal system responds.  You might discover some unsettling facts to safeguard yourself from harsh realities like Ms. Bowes.  

Rape and sexual assault is best served by trusted, certified rape crisis responders. Miss Bowes, is furious detectives did not believe her.  She said, “The police just didn’t care.  They were rude and disrespectful.  Through my translator they said, “Well, this happens every day in Florence.”

If you are traveling to Europe, the Rape Crisis Network Europe may be your lifeline if you are sexually assaulted.
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