Teased, touched and assaulted: foreign women facing harassment

Walking down a crowded street two weeks ago in the Maldives capital of Male’, Lisa*, 25, had one of the most horrific experiences of her life.

Teased, touched and assaulted by two young men on the street, the Australian foreign worker was left deeply upset and stunned over the harassment that occurred in broad daylight.

“I was walking near the swim track when these two boys in their 20s came behind me and grabbed my ass. I screamed and they walked away. I kept walking forward and then suddenly saw the two boys approaching me again. I was really scared because I did not know what they were going to do next,” Lisa recalled.

“They came back, surrounded me and started to pass comments at me. They touched me inappropriately, grabbed me and one of them slapped me,” she continued. It lasted for about 20 seconds I think. I took my phone and warned them I was calling the police. Then they grabbed me once more and just ran off.”

She had travelled from Australia to work in the Maldives just a few months before the incident, and had not expected to face harassment or attack, she said.

In the last few weeks foreign women from diverse nationalities working in Maldives have come forward and told Minivan News about various attacks, ranging from verbal abuse to physical and sometimes sexual assaults.

Clarice*, a 23-year-old French woman, was teased and stalked on the street while she was walking home on March 1.

“I was walking past the artificial beach around 12:30pm in the afternoon. A group of four local boys, maybe in their 20s, started following me. They passed comments like ‘you are my angel’ and one of them grabbed my arm and said ‘oh your skin is so beautiful’. I really did not understand what they wanted and I was really scared because they kept following me,” Clarice explained.

“Because they were following me I went back to the office, instead of going home. I live alone so I was did not want them to find out where I live,” she added.

Clarice decided not to inform police because it was mostly verbal abuse, she said.

Unsafe at home

Meanwhile, several other women interviewed exclaimed that the “threats have extended from streets to homes”.

Katie*, a 34-year old American who has worked in Male’ for almost a year, said she thought she had figured out the Maldives, its culture and its people. Respecting the Muslim background, she said she was sensitive to societal rules, dressed modestly and until recently, thought of Maldives as a safe place.

What changed her impression was a horrific incident last month which a local man sexually assaulted her while she she was unlocking the door of her apartment.

“It was early morning around 4:00am. I was unlocking the door to my house when I felt someone grab my neck from behind. At first I thought it was my friends who had left just seconds ago. But the grip was very firm so I turned around and saw a man wearing white shirt and pants. I screamed at the top of my voice,” Katie recalled.

“He grabbed my breasts, ripped the t-shirt I was wearing. I tried to hit him with my hands, screamed and tried to escape. At that time the door was unlocked and he had pushed me inside. I managed to hit his groin with my feet. That’s when he let go of me and ran out. I tried to follow him but he fled on a motorbike too quickly,” she said. “I was so distraught, I could not even call the police.”

Neighbors who heard her screams called the police. Around five to six officers arrived on the scene with a forensic team.

Disappointed with police

However, according to Katie, the police did not take her statement until three weeks later and then got the details of the attack completely wrong.

“The police had stated my necklace was stolen. It broke off during the attack, I still have it. The attacker must have known the necklace I was wearing was not gold because it was made of multi-colored beads,” Katie pointed out.

She added that she had later found out from CCTV camera owners nearby her house that the police had not requested the footage or interviewed neighbors for clues. Frustrated over the lack of police assistance, she called the US embassy. “I don’t think they would have even taken the statement if the American Embassy had not called them,” Katie claimed.

Lucy, a 36 Irish woman, also talked to Minivan New about an attack, and a disappointing experience with the police, following a robbery and sexual assault she encountered last year.

She was attacked while walking up the flat’s staircase with two other female friends around midnight.

“The apartment was on the sixth floor and I was walking upstairs to my friends apartment. They were couple of steps ahead of me and I was walking up when, suddenly, a man came behind me and grabbed my breasts and tried to pull my clothes,” Lucy recollected.

“I go to the gym and I lift weights. But I couldn’t get him off. He was quite a large and it seemed he was under the influence of something. I hit him with my bag several times. He did not attempt to grab it and run. I think his intention was to pull off my clothes. By then my friends had heard the screams and came running downstairs. That’s when he released me and ran off,” she added.

Lucy however noted that the attack had not affected her as much as when she was robbed just weeks before the attack, and found the robbery to be the “worst ordeal”.

“My laptops and phone was stolen from my apartment. That was the worst ordeal because somebody broke into my room while I was sleeping,” she observed.

Thanks to her strong personality, Lucy said she managed to get over both attacks and visit Maldives again this year. However, she echoed others’ grievances over the lack of support from police.

“When police came to the flat the only response I got from them was ‘this never happens’. They did not take my statement or follow up on me. I don’t think the case was investigated,” she claimed.

Lisa, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, also complained over the lack of police professionalism after she reported the harassment on the street and added that it seemed “police did not the case seriously”.

Police Spokesperson Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef responded that police investigate all the complaints and officers who investigate foreigners cases are skilled and capable in communicating in English: “But we do face difficulties in communicating with Bangladeshi expatriates,” he said.

He noted that it was difficult to state whether harassment of foreign women was on the rise, but confirmed that such cases had been reported.

Haneef also urged women to report such attacks, assuring that complete investigations would be conducted.

Lisa, Clarice, Katie and Lucy say they are awaiting justice and for a day they can walk the streets without being teased, touched or assaulted. A day when they don’t have to be extra cautious on streets, scan around for possible stalkers or triple check their locks.

In the meantime all they ask from the local community is “not to assume we provoked the attacks and step in to help a woman being harassed”.

*Names changed


69 thoughts on “Teased, touched and assaulted: foreign women facing harassment”

  1. I'm sick of hearing the mad mullahs of maldives droning on endlessly about islam showing great respect for women.....really?.....clearly this message is not getting through to your drugged up young men.....42% of whom are addicted to 'brown sugar' no less.....what a bunch of losers.
    Under your stupid religious laws, how are these thugs punished?....are they flogged in public?.....is a vital organ chopped off?

  2. The goons, who were paid by some from the present government and acted as 'masses' protesting for 22 days , prior to 7th February, now want to exercise their rights' to harass anybody they want, specially foreigners. And of course nobody expects the police, who were reportedly bribed to overthrow an elected government, to have the courage to control these goons. They are not the ordinary protesting women, who can be sprayed with water canon !. The sooner the foreigners understand the rules of the game in my country, its better for them.

  3. this is ofcourse a bad thing. But there is something thats important for everybody to consider for her own safety. if you want to avoid such things, its better not to make the men get aroused by wearing such clothes. After walking on the streets naked, its not wise to expect that men will not have a feeling. this happens everywhere when people get sexually aroused.

  4. Seriously stop pointing fingers and lets try to get something actually done!
    Like erm I don't know getting better investigations, and action against the accused being taken; fines, imprisonment, house arrest, etc! seriously do something. Stand up so called Police. help the people. Cause if we don't address this matter early, our problems are going to only escalate.

  5. I think women need to not only report each and every time they are harassed, they also need to scream. Scream as though they are on fire every time they are touched in public. That way the good and honorable men around her hear and help. There are bad men in Male but if the good men stand up and protect us it would be a powerful message that harrassment is not accepted. Next time I am grabbed I am going to scream. I hope I am helped 🙁

  6. @Dave Jones.

  7. Another comment, this time by NobleThought above, suggesting that foreigners lack understanding of the 'ways of Maldives' (rules of the game) and completely missing the point of all of this!

    'Playing' into corrupt and incompetent authorities, and acceptance of inefficient institutions is not a game, and its definitely nothing to gloat about.

    See my response to 'celdums' 'silly foreigners' comment above too. Another example of this unhelpful attitude.

  8. There is no excuse or justification for such acts. Women are not objects who are there to sate the male sexual appetite, irrespective of where they are from, or which colour they are, or what they wear!
    Men should start to act as the strong willed men they assert themselves to be whenever a the two sexes are compared. If men are so strong willed, they should be able to control their sexuality.
    And the police should take more responsible, and visible action to assist victims of abuse.

  9. There r only few Muslims here. You forigners are better in morals than our sitizens. These power hungry, corrupted politicians has ruined the morals of this country under the banner of Islam. May God takes away thier wealth. Amen

  10. The police n mndf r most horny!! They would wish to grab her ass when they come to investigate.

  11. "She had travelled from Australia to work in the Maldives just a few months before the incident, and had not expected to face harassment or attack, she said."
    Of course we local women are given notices in writing before we get attacked or assaulted. Maybe we should put an advance warning in the immigration entry forms about expatriate women facing harassment here.

    It is a crime regardless of skin colour or nationality. I too got assaulted on the way from home & i was too scared to walk alone for months. Influx of Bangladeshi workers has made the situation a lot more worse. But Sexual harassment & assault exists everywhere, not only here & certainly not only for white women.
    Also, i see everyone is quick to demean the Maldives police, maybe these women should look at the number of rape & assault cases unsolved or unprocessed in their own countries.

  12. @Hussain,

    I suppose you must be a psychic to know what the MNDF & Police wishes.

  13. When i lost my bicycle the same thing happened. 1 police station asked me to go to another. I questioned them why when i lost it just near this place should i go else where to complain. then they told they had moved some bicycles to a certain place and asked me to go there. When i went there in the pouring rain and the police checked me there. After I cleared my identity they asked all my personal details. then i got nuisance calls from that police man for over a month.That is only one thing. The other was that When i returned to the police station the people had changed duties within 10 minutes. I I first went at 5pm. finished my job at 10pm.I had to force them to take down my complain. Long LIVE MALDIVES POLICE SERVICE on Your 79th Birthday.Your Service and Attitudes towards Human Beings are Excellent.

  14. Sexual harassment of women happens everywhere, in all the countries. But this does not absolve us from guilt as a society from tolerating and passively encouraging such practices. So if there is an incident of sexual harassment or sexual assault in Maldives, stay focused on Maldives, do not divert the attention by talking about other countries. Yes its true that this is prevalent in the society and is embedded in the religious and cultural prejudices against women, which in most cases leave the victim with no justice. Thus we have a culture that often stigmatizes the victim in these situations. But importantly the legal system needs to signal that such behavior will no longer be tolerated and this has to be manifest in the way the police and the courts carry out their responsibilities, regardless of the nationality or the status of the victim. In most countries cases relating to sexual offences are seen as the most important of criminal offences, perhaps it needs such an importance in our criminal justice system as well.

  15. Well done Lubna and the brave women you interviewed for helping to bring this matter to public attention. Sexual harrassment/assault of women (foreign and Maldivian) is a huge problem here in Male'. We never go one single day without hearing crude or offensive comments from men on the streets ('nice tits', 'sexy bitch', 'how much?', 'nice p*ssy' - we've heard it all). It makes no difference what we wear, and is only slightly reduced by walking with a male companion. Why do you think so many of us wear headphones on the streets? Well I know personally speaking (and speaking for many others) it's so we can't hear stupid or offensive remarks as we walk past. Why do we try to stare at the ground and walk as fast as possible? Same reason. Why do we wear leggings under our dresses and 'sleeve' tops despite them making us sweat so much in temperatures we're unaccustomed to? Sure, we're attempting to be 'culturally sensitive' but we're also certainly not wearing leggings for fashion, it's to try to limit the amount of freaky staring (almost as if they're not self-aware), stupid comments and weirdos snapping our photos on their camera phones to w"£k over later. EVERY DAY. How on earth did this kind of behaviour ever become considered acceptable by these guys and their friends? Guys: How would you feel about your mum or your sister encountering this kind of treatment? Have some respect for women! ALL women.

  16. Dear Maldivians !!

    Your country is 99% depending on the Tourism. If these kind of news spread over the world you will become place where Other government announced Maldives is a not a recommended place to visit.

    Give a good smile when you see a foreigner they will like your country. If you don't have an smile at stranger no matter the how nice your islands and lands.. I will be a paradise.. just simple give a little smile...

  17. Why abuse foreign women when there enough burkha clad, sexually starved women who want to get felt by these Maldivian machos.


Comments are closed.