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There is always a slight chance of assault, rape, or other serious attack. These risks can be managed to some extent by ensuring that you establish and are able to rely on networks of trustworthy people in the communities where you work.
Always pay attention to the ways that local people keep themselves safe and accept their advice about steps you should take.
Questions you need to know the answers to:
- Do I know the local cultural norms regarding personal behaviour?
- Can I read the signs when someone is getting upset with me, and alter my behaviour to avoid problems?
- Is there anyone around who will act as a cultural mentor and provide me with some guidance?
- Who can I ask when I don’t understand why people are behaving in particular ways?
While in PNG, my husband and I lived in our own house and were generally self sufficient. The house was not very secure – there were bolts on the doors that could be padlocked but only flimsy screens on the windows. Whenever my husband was away, at least one younger woman from the community was assigned to come and sleep at my house. Local women in the village never sleep alone in a house. I really appreciated the fact that people in the village were thinking about and protecting my well-being in this way.
-- Tonya Stebbins
While staying at my field site in Ethiopia for the first time, I was not aware that it was inappropriate to look into men's eyes and to display a too cheerful behaviour when speaking with them, because this was easily interpreted as a pick-up attempt. As a severe consequence of this, a man entered my hotel room uninvited and he could only be made to leave with very harsh words.
-- Yvonne Treis
I got off a bus early in the morning in a small town I had visited often, and was walking towards a hotel that I had stayed in before, when I was attacked and robbed. Afterwards people told me that this area was known to be dangerous, and that I should have stayed on the bus until it got light, as locals do. If only I'd thought to ask their advice beforehand!
-- Simon Overall