Sexual Harassment and Skopelos: My Negative Experiences on the Blue-Green Island

Skopelos island is a gorgeous Mediterranean paradise that sits in the North Aegean sea between the islands of Skiathos, Alonissos, and Skyros. It is often referred to as the “balcony of the Aegean” on account of its breathtaking, unparalleled views. The island is the greenest in the entire Mediterranean sea. 

Skopelos: The Blue-Green Island

Skopelos island

For decades, Skopelos has remained well under the radar as far as international tourism goes. The first tourists didn’t really arrive on the island until the eighties. Even then, those that ventured off the beaten path and discovered it mostly kept it to themselves. 

It wasn’t really until Hollywood Movie Directors chose the island as the filming location for Mamma Mia that Skopelos was put on the map. The island still doesn’t see the same influx of crowds as say, the Cyclades. However, the tourism scene here is slowly emerging, growing and developing. 

Part of the charm is that Skopelos feels relatively unchanged by tourism. Sure, there are some tavernas in Skopelos town that cater to an international crowd. However, venture ten minutes away from the port area, and you find that you have secluded coastal areas, beaches, and hiking trails all to yourself. 

The island seems frozen in time, sixty years or so ago. Sadly, that is also part of its downfall, particularly if you are travelling here as a woman. Just like the way of life is frozen in the past, so too are a lot of the views of women.

Visiting Skopelos as a Solo Female Traveller 

Misogyny in Skopelos
Misogyny in Skopelos

The vast majority of those that travel to Skopelos island are couples aged 40 and above. A large portion of these visitors are an older, retired crowd. You don’t really see a lot of young, international tourists in Skopelos, and definitely not many young solo female travellers. 

I arrived in Skopelos in September 2020 after 3.5 years of living in Athens. It was an island that I would soon start to joke about with my friends as being an island of sex-deprived men. The local dudes seemed so sexually frustrated that it was like being marooned on an island of men that had just gotten out of a maximum-security penitentiary and hadn’t seen a woman in seven years. 

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, yes. But some places are “red zones”.

In Skopelos, the issue is exacerbated by the fact that cultural misogyny is rife, western girls are viewed as “easy”, few young travellers visit the island, and the local “macho” male culture almost encourages treating women like objects. Here you’ll find “bros” high-fiving and sharing explicit details of their latest tourist conquests, and local women often being too afraid or deterred from speaking out about the harassment they face. 

No, it certainly isn’t all men, nor all Greek men, or all Skopeliti men. However, there are enough instances and offenders on the island that it is something that solo female travellers need to be aware of. 

Sexual Harassment and Skopelos 

I spent seven months in Skopelos during the global pandemic. My original intention was only to stick around for a month or two. However, basing myself in a remote place that was relatively free from cases and strict lockdown rules seemed more appealing than returning to a crowded, over-populated city like Athens

The constant harassment from local men started from pretty much the moment I arrived on the island. At first, I shrugged it off, laughed at it like I was just encountering a rogue weirdo or two. In time, this would be something that would make me feel so uncomfortable that I’d end up contacting the island police and ultimately, deciding to leave Skopelos early. 

Incidents on the Island

Solo female travel in Skopelos
Solo female travel in Skopelos

During my time on the island, I had several disturbing encounters with local men. On one occasion, a local gym owner recognised my house from social media and showed up outside it in the middle of the night sending me vulgar messages.

There were several instances where I was followed. Perhaps the most sinister was when I repeatedly turned down a man’s advances as he rode alongside me on his motorbike asking me for a drink – only to go outside again later that evening to discover he had been waiting behind my wall for hours.

I was offered money for sex, had local men shout “tha se gamisou!” and other vulgarities at me, and invited for threesomes as casually as though someone was simply offering me a slice of cake. In almost four years of living in Greece, I never experienced the kind of harassment I did on Skopelos island.

Skopelos Island and Harassment
Skopelos Island and Harassment

I lived in Athens’ Pagrati district for years and based myself in Thessaloniki for several months at a time. I’ve been everywhere in Greece from the Peloponnese to the remote villages of Northern Greece.

The harassment in Skopelos did not align with what I was used to. It was the very first time I felt uncomfortable in Greece.

A Repulsive Request

Arguably the worst experience I had on the island was when my rejecting the advances of a local turned into being harassed and bullied by him and his friends. The man and I had never met but had mutual aquaintances.

He reached out to me on Instagram and asked me if I wanted a threesome with him and another man. Perfectly acceptable ice breaker for speaking to a strange woman, eh?

I declined and in disgust, I told various people on the island about his message including his girlfriend. Speaking out seemed like a good idea at the time. However, it resulted in me being further harassed by his friends.

Ultimately I decided to contact the Skopelos police. Asking a strange woman for a threesome may be sleazy but it certainly isn’t illegal. 

However, what starts to become problematic is when the person then feels bullied, intimidated, and harassed by a group of men. I was already uncomfortable about going into the town because of prior experiences with other men.

The latest episode in the saga made everything worse and even just walking to the supermarket made me feel sick with anxiety. I had to run a few errands a matter of hours after this all unfolded and I could see a group of local men sitting outside the portside coffee shop staring at me and muttering in Greek. 

Holding your head high and ignoring this sort of thing is easier said than done when you’re in a remote, foreign place alone and it feels like it’s you versus a group of men. Would it stop at stares and Instagram messages? Or would it escalate to being approached in public?

Safety Concerns and the Skopeliti Police 

The email that I sent to the Skopelos police discussed the situation and the fact that I didn’t feel safe because of the actions of this group of men. I thought that the police could at least have words with them and deter them/scare them from contacting me again. I sent them screenshots of vulgar and harassing messages received from the various men.

I heard nothing about my report until several days later when I received a letter from the police. The man I had reported for harassment had filed a counter-report that I was making false accusations.

False accusations? Really?

I had sent screenshots of his messages, with his name and username clearly in the frame as evidence. However, being called in for questioning made me seriously anxious. The experience reiterated to me just how ingrained sexism is in small Greek communities. 

Misogynistic Advice 

When I told people on the island about the letter, I was repeatedly told that I should have a Lawyer because “they knew him and I was just a foreign woman”. I was told things like:

“I would highly recommend that you take a Lawyer with you. Afterall, he’s a local and has influence and you’re not”. 

“Take a male friend with you to make sure you’re taken seriously”. 

“Take a Greek person with you to make sure you’re taken seriously”. 

“Hire a Lawyer, but make sure it’s a male Lawyer not a female Lawyer”. 

“Sure, go to the police but keep in mind it might be seen as “us versus the foreign woman” 

“Don’t dress or act feminine, be serious”. 

“Act sweet, Greek police are suckers for a cute woman!” 

“There are two Lawyers on the island but one is a sexist so don’t get the sexist Lawyer.” 

Speaking with the Skopelos Police

I took a Greek male friend with me to my appointment. I decided against taking a Lawyer because frankly, I didn’t want to waste money on something so stupid.

As far as I was concerned, I was the victim here, not someone that should be put on the defensive. But I contacted the British Embassy and the Cybercrime department of the police to be sure. 

I also decided not to pay any mind to much of the sexist, often contradictory advice on how I should present myself at the police station. I went as myself – armed with evidence, facts, and still deserving to be taken seriously regardless of how I dressed or presented myself.

I heard all manner of obscure excuses and lies from the man’s acquaintances – including how he was supposedly going to take me to court for defamation of character. I arrived at the police station ready to defend myself.

Instead, I arrived to find that the man had confessed to everything, said that he was feeling embarrassed and that was that. What an absolute waste of police time.

Sincerely. It should be an offense to attempt to file false criminal charges. 

A Dismissive Attitude

I didn’t feel that I needed a lawyer or even my male friend present at any point during the interview with the island police. However, I wasn’t happy with how the situation was handled.

When I filed a report to say that I was feeling unsafe, it was dismissed. Yet when the local man submitted his rebuttal that I was “spreading false information”, I was immediately called in for questioning.

I reiterated to the police that I didn’t feel comfortable with the advances I’d had from various men on the island and they just looked at me blankly. They had nothing to say about the other instances of being followed and harassed on the island.

Arguably at least these instances were documented. Perhaps these men will think twice before harassing other young women in the future.

Is Skopelos Safe for Solo Female Travellers?

Skopelos is a beautiful island but the harassment became unbearable. By the end, I felt as though I was counting down my remaining time on the island like a prisoner scratching a tally chart into the wall before he gets out of jail.

I don’t know whether some of my anxiety was unwarranted, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I wanted to leave. I simply couldn’t handle any more weirdness.

It would be wrong to say that Skopelos Island is totally unsafe or that you should boycott it completely. Perhaps passing through for a day or two on part of a wider island-hopping adventure means you don’t stick around long enough to experience too much weirdness.

However, my experiences left me concerned for my safety if something worse were to happen to me. I felt ostracised and alone.

For that reason, I don’t think it’s a good place for young solo female travelers to be. Not only is the risk of harassment high, but there also is not a good support system in place to assist you if you get into trouble.

Reporting harassment and safety concerns, I was seen as an outsider. Islanders and ex-pats themselves reiterated to me that it would be me – an unknown random foreign woman, versus men that have grown up on the island and were known by everyone in the small community.

What if you were to be attacked or assaulted, or worse? Would you get justice? Would you be believed? The harrowing tale of a British teen in Cyprus was always in the back of my mind.

Even some of the women on the island, local and ex-pat, had no empathy about me speaking out about the harassment. They acted as though I should just quietly report it and not “damage” the island’s reputation.

I was repeatedly told to “stop complaining”. I was doing the island “a disservice” and the islanders “didn’t need negative attention after a pandemic”.

One woman actually said to me “If you’re being stalked, take it up with the police don’t keep complaining about it!” It’s a shame that the focus wasn’t on the disgusting, vulgar, misogynistic men to change their attitude and behavior, but on me as the woman experiencing it to “shut up”.

Conclusion

I am not unfamiliar with male attention. But there is a distinct difference in asking someone for their phone number to showing up outside their house asking for sex, or asking them for a threesome and then getting your friends to harass them when they decline.

When Skopelitis start to better respect solo female travelers, and stand up for those that visit their island and are harassed perhaps I’ll change my mind. Until then, consider finding a different Greek island for your “Eat Pray Love” style escape. I did not have this experience in PaxosCorfu, Spetses, or any of the other 20+ islands I’ve been to in my years of being a Mediterranean Travel Writer.


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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