Dilemma: What do I do for a woman in danger in Cinque Terra, Italy?

by Kimberley Rain Miner

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I think I am the only person in the world who doesn’t love Cinque Terra, Italy. People are always shocked and surprised when I tell them, but it has much less to do with the place than with the situation. My friends and I had decided to be sneaky and erase one of the pencil marks from our Eurail pass that indicated a train trip taken. The conductor caught us. In furious Italian he asked us what had happened to our passes and what in the heck we thought we were doing in Italy anyway. He asked for our passports, which we of course denied him. Never give an angry Italian, who is not a government official, your passport. Some gentlemen sitting next to us eventually stood up for us as the huffy conductor made two marks on our tickets, two train rides for the price of one.We arrived a little shaken in Cinque Terra, ready to rest on the beach and look for a hostel. Hours later, the hostels proved too expensive and we decided to sleep on the beach as a number of people had suggested in Florence. That evening, heading out to see a Beatles cover band on the beach, we were jocularly discussing our day as we ran into a man beating his wife. Remember, we were youthful and arrogant, and didn’t even think before we decided to intercede.  Screaming at the man as we ran towards his wife, we must have looked insane as he backed off quickly and in great anger. His wife got up, looking humiliated, and walked away. We stood on the beach, again, shaken, until we realized that there in the distance, the man was talking to the police and pointing towards us. We knew very little Italian, and knew to be afraid of foreign police, and so we ran. We hid out on the beach that night and left town the next day.

Aside from being an insane recounting of one of the most beautiful places on earth, there are outstanding issues implicit within this experience that I have yet to reconcile. What, for example, should we have done? Do we turn a blind eye to women in danger, simply because they are not our countrymen? Do we allow ourselves to stand up for righteousness and assume the police who do not speak our language will understand? Disaster response teaches us to always place our own safety first so that we do not also become a casualty, but does that also extend to refusing to help those in need?  I have yet to come up with an answer to these questions but it is clear that women travelers will often be confronted with issues dissimilar from the ones their male counterparts may face. It is also clear to me that these issues must be dealt with and discussed amongst female travelers and nationals, for if we are to look to a nation’s women for guidance and support while traveling, do they not deserve the same from us?

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