New Zealand women have shared their stories of unwanted sexual touching while travelling, after a 23-year-old returning home from her OE spoke about being indecently assaulted by a man sitting next to her on the 16-hour flight.
The women emailed the Herald after reading yesterday about the young woman's experience on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Auckland on Friday.
The man repeatedly touched her, grabbed her hands and kissed them during take off when the lights were dimmed, she said. Airline staff moved the woman after take-off and she was told by police the man was warned by them upon landing, but she shared her story to raise awareness for other female travellers.
Her story prompted several others to come forward.
A 29-year-old woman wrote of her experience on an early hours of the morning bus from Rotorua to Auckland when she was 16.
"I sat in the seat next to the window and a man sat next to me. He must have been in his late 30s to early 40s. He started off friendly, asking me how old I was and where I was going.
"His questions then started to get a bit more personal, he asked me if I had a boyfriend and if I was a virgin and a few other vulgar questions."
The man put his hand on her knee, and didn't remove it when she responded by trying to push it away.
"I made it very clear that I was uncomfortable with what he was doing to me but he did not care. For the majority of the ride he touched me on my legs, inside my shirt, and kissed my neck and face. I kept my thighs firmly pressed together, so he couldn't put his hand between my legs.
"I was so young, I didn't know what to do. I had never been put in that position before. I just sat there as still as I could and silently cried."
An older woman in the seat in front kept looking behind her, but didn't intervene.
In Hamilton, the woman tried to get off the bus, but the man told her knew she was lying because she'd already told him she was transferring to another bus in Auckland.
"And he pushed me back into my seat and continued to touch me for the rest of the trip."
In Auckland she hid in the bus station's female toilets for an hour until boarding her next bus — at which point she looked out the window and saw the man, a big smile on his face, waving to her.
"As if we were friends, it was absurd."
She did not tell anyone about the incident for a long time, the woman wrote.
"I am a very strong woman, completely different to the scared, timid girl I was back then. If I ever see that man again I cannot guarantee his safety."
"He took advantage of me"
Another woman shared her experience of unwanted sexual touching, also when she was 16, but this time while flying with her grandmother from Auckland to Sydney.
The woman wrote in an email she had "never been able to verbalise the experience".
"Sat next to a man who was sitting by the window ... he took advantage of me when my grandmother had to queue for ages to go to the toilet. Touching me. Frightening me.
"I was young. I felt I didn't want to burden my grandmother with something like this. This is a long time ago. Just struck a chord tonight."
"I felt very vulnerable as I was traveling alone"
A third woman spoke of a "horrible" experience she had while flying between South Africa and New Zealand.
"I found myself sitting next to a 60-year-old man. We introduced ourselves and chatted politely.
"I felt he was being over friendly so I decided to close my eyes and go to sleep only to
wake up to find his hand had found its way under my blanket and was groping my stomach," she said.
"When I jumped he claimed he thought I was his wife. His wife wasn't traveling with him."
The married mother-of-two, said the experience made her feel very vulnerable.
"And just two weeks before I flew to SA, I'd had breast cancer surgery. I was returning home to NZ after 10 days visiting my parents to recover.
"I had to sit there next to him for the rest of the long flight vigilantly watching for any further advances."
She said reading yesterday's Herald article made her want to tell her story.
"It makes me so angry that we live in a world where women have to watch out every day for assaults and unwanted advances.
"Women should be able to sit next to a man, without being interfered with," she said.
"This was the last thing I needed"
Another woman explained how she was inappropriately touched by a man while his wife slept in the seat beside him.
"When I was returning back to New Zealand from my mother's funeral I was inappropriately touched by a man.
"The horrifying thing about this was his wife was asleep on the other side of him," she said.
"The Air NZ staff were very understanding and moved me to another seat. I spent the flight contemplating confronting the man who had tried to fondle me, but in the end I did not.
"To this day I still wish I had the energy to confront this man. I wonder how many others he has done this to."
"I screamed at him to leave me alone"
At age 23, another woman had a similar experience while travelling to London on her OE.
"A man boarded the plane in Brisbane. I was in the aisle seat and he sat next to me in the middle.
"He started asking me weird questions and stating that he knew me, that we had hung out that week in Brisbane. Obviously I had come from Auckland, so that wasn't true.
I tried to laugh it off but he persisted and started claiming that I was his girlfriend whilst trying to hold my hand and touch my thigh," she said.
"I shuffled away, as far as I could. I had taken a sleeping pill so couldn't help but fall asleep. I was eventually awoken by one of the cabin crew asking if I knew the man next to me. He had fallen asleep on my shoulder with his hand in my lap."
After the cabin crew moved her to another seat, the woman thought the ordeal was over, but it continued during a stopover at Dubai Airport.
"Dubai Airport is huge, but somehow he tracked me down. Again I had fallen asleep and awoke to him sitting next to me touching and sniffing my hair.
"I screamed at him to leave me alone. But in the end I felt I had no other choice but to go to the female bathroom and wait there until my next flight, which thankfully he was not on.
"It was a pretty disgusting and vulnerable situation to be put in," she said.