I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THAT!
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. The journey changes you; it should change you.” Anthony Bourdain
This is my most personal post to-date, and it was not an easy one to write. It means publicly admitting to something I’ve secretly struggled with for weeks: I was a victim of sexual assault by a male masseuse in Bali. I have debated whether to share this experience multiple times. A huge part of me wants to continue processing it quietly, but a tiny fraction of me feels an obligation to inform and warn others, especially my fellow solo female travelers.
As part of my decision to come forward, I’ve had to look up what sexual assault entails. Before this incident, I thought it involved forceful or physical harm. While my experience did not have that, the effect was mortifying and shameful.
There are different definitions of sexual assault — they all have one common theme. According to womenshealth.gov, sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. I searched the internet for any reported cases of my kind of abuse in Bali and Indonesia at large — but my search results were futile. I found most reported assault cases by masseuses were based in the US. This situation is not unique, so why was there no information? Is it the shame that comes with having to admit this or the difficulty to accept that it actually happened?
All is well over here
My week in Bali was amazing — leading up to the terrifying incident.
I was there for a travel bloggers boot camp that was very well planned and executed by two female solo travel industry experts, Glo Atanmo – The Blog Abroad and Alyssa Ramos – My Life is a Travel Movie. I had the opportunity to meet a group of the most amazing and supportive bloggers. The week was spent learning how to grow our brands and create great content for our multiple platforms while visiting the most beautiful sites Bali had to offer. We didn’t want the week to end. I also had the distinct pleasure of winning one of the two prizes from the sponsors, a Skyroam Solis Hotspot, to support my future blogging needs when traveling. To say I was having a great week would be an understatement.
We had spent the week in Ubud, a serene area north of Bali filled with amazing villas, picturesque rice fields and vegetation — and overall great vibes. The locals couldn’t have been nicer!
IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
On our last night in Bali, we moved to Kuta, a beach and resort area with bustling shopping and nightlife. Most tourists are usually found here. It gets crowded easily.
We dedicated our last day in Bali to shopping for souvenirs and personal gifts. Shopping is exhausting … at least for me. With two of my new friends, Alyssa and Aubrey, we decided to get relaxing massages before catching our long flights home.
Retail therapy anyone?
We picked a spa on our shopping path on a busy street near our hotel. Before I continue, let me just say that massages in Indonesia are very affordable and amazing. Ten dollars can get you a full body massage for one hour and 30 minutes. The spa seemed OK — nothing fancy by US standards — but it was clean. We ordered our full body massages. It turned out they were short on masseuses at that time and they had to call-in two from a spa next door. The receptionist asked us if we preferred a male or female masseuse. Being short on time, it didn’t matter to us.
Eden Green Spa – the dreaded place!
PLEASE DON’T GO!
I went first. My friends had to wait for their masseuses to arrive. The male receptionist would be my masseuse — I guess they multitask. The massage started with him washing my feet, which is common before being led to the massage tables upstairs.
The surroundings at this spa were similar to the last place I visited two years ago. I received a cloth to cover myself with once the clothes came off. Again, common. Typically, you undress down to the panties but the cloth/towel is used to cover up your body.
While my massage was well in progress, my friends who were downstairs got impatient. Their masseuses were taking far too long to arrive and we were short on time. They came up to tell me that they had canceled their massages and would continue shopping. They asked me to meet them back at the hotel. My masseuse heard all of this. With no other customers at the spa after my friends left, it was just him and I.
THIS WASN’T ON MY BUCKET LIST!
The first 30 minutes were OK. For some reason, I could not quite relax. He asked me several times if I was OK, and I said yes. He seemed more thorough with the massage compared to my last female masseuse at the villa in Ubud a week earlier. His hands ran pretty high up my thigh, which was uncomfortable but not enough to raise any internal alarm — mistake one. My whole body would tense up each time he moved high up my leg, but I kept debating within myself if I should say something or give him the benefit of the doubt. I chose the latter😕. I kept thinking that maybe this was the way at this spa.
Then it was time to lay on my back. Usually, the towel/cloth goes over your chest down to the mid thigh. The masseuse started with my feet working his way up to my thighs … again more thorough than I remember. My body would twitch in discomfort as he kept asking if I was OK. I was still giving him the benefit of the doubt until he moved his hand onto my lower stomach, proceeding to massage the area. I immediately knew this was unusual! I certainly was not here for a different kind of massage that is popular in Asia if you catch my drift.
I moved his hand away and he went back at it as if my action meant nothing! I moved his hand away a second time — mistake two. I had not made any eye contact the entire time as my eyes were shut during the massage. I finally opened my eyes as it was getting disturbing and his breathing was becoming rapid! He winked at me and shoved his hand down my panties. I was alarmed! I yelled at him to get away from me immediately. I was angry at him then at myself for letting it get to that point. I should have stopped the massage as soon as it felt odd. Then panic overcame me because I feared the worst – – rape! There was no one else there.
My yelling must have thrown him off as he ran away. I dressed up as fast as I could and ran downstairs — only to find a female receptionist casually watching cat videos on YouTube. The nerve! She had obviously heard me scream. What kind of operation were they running here? I threw my money on the counter and ran out of the place without looking back. They didn’t deserve a single penny from me for my trauma but I was too mortified to justify that.
I was ashamed and angry at myself. I could have stopped that from happening early on. I couldn’t stop shaking in disbelief. When I recounted my experience to my blogger friends later, a lady sitting with us — a friend of a friend — said the same thing happened to her at different spa in Ubud that was full of customers. Her masseuse went as far as pull out his penis! Uhmm … say what now?! Goes to show you it can be worse.
I could have gone on a tirade to report this establishment and the masseuse but it was hard to process what had just happened. I needed time. Thankfully, the few people I disclosed the incident to were supportive and urged me to take my time and only talk about it when I was ready.
As I had stated earlier, what happened to me is not unique. It happens more than you know. How do you protect yourself from this? There are certainly plenty of legitimate spas in Bali or Ubud. I have been to them. This is not to discourage anyone from getting a massage in Indonesia. I am merely warning everyone to be more vigilant than I was. When something doesn’t feel right, be vocal and put an end to it immediately. Better safe than sorry.
To my solo female travelers, there are really more good people than bad out there. I have had amazing experiences in my travels. Met the kindest strangers who have turned into friends. I ask that you become extremely cautious and always trust your instincts. People are inherently good in the world but there are creeps in every society. Request a female masseuse if you must get a massage.
To our wonderful men out there, be supportive and call out bad behavior. Often times, there is a doubt if sexual assault or even worse, rape, truly happened. The blame is sometimes placed on the victim. No one is proud to admit shameful details. There is no gain.