Stalked on trail in Spain, Kitchener hiker encourages women to report threats
Sara Dhooma hopes her story will help other female travellers report incidents to police
A woman who quit her job to hike around the world after a near-death experience says her journey will continue despite being stalked and chased by a man on a trail in Spain.
Now, she's speaking out to encourage other female travellers to report sexual abuse when it happens.
Long-distance hiker Sara Dhooma began hiking around the world after nearly dying from a pulmonary embolism in 2015. She often blogs about her travels on Instagram and YouTube.
The 38-year-old Kitchener woman was walking the Camino De Santiago De El Salvador on Nov. 4 when an older man began following her.
The man had been following her for awhile, she said, and at one point she thought he needed help. Then, he exposed himself and began chasing her.
She said she was afraid for her life and ran to nearby houses. There, she was helped by a man who happened to be a member of the local police.
Court process expedited
Despite not knowing the language or how the Spanish justice system works, she decided to press charges against the man.
"[Camino de Santiago] is supposed to be a safe place for people to come and pilgrimage, and this man is destroying it and I thought, 'No I need to report this and have justice served,'" Dhooma said.
Shortly after giving her testimony with the help of a translator, the issue went to court the next day.
Dhooma's lawyer, Jose Luis Leon told CBC News the issue went to trial quickly because he wanted to make sure the man was sentenced before Dhooma returned to Canada.
Court documents show that videos and pictures Dhooma took of the man helped police to identify and arrest him.
The man pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and will be paying a daily fine of eight euros for 11 months, in addition to a 500 euro fine to be paid to Dhooma. There is also a restraining order against the man for the duration of 16 months, according to court documents.
'I won't stop'
Dhooma says she's still a bit shaken by what happened but is determined to keep hiking. She's set to finish the Camino de Santiago in a few weeks.
"I won't stop because of what happened. If anything, it's made me more angry to keep going and prove that women can do anything," she said.
"Set up an obstacle, I will knock it down."
Dhooma's husband, Daryl Smith, said he's "incredibly proud" of his wife for speaking out.
"The easiest thing to do is to turn away and say, 'I don't want to bother with this,' but she did the right thing," he said.
Dhooma hopes her story encourages other women travelling to speak out and report incidents to police if ever caught in a similar situation.
"If anything terrible happens to you, go seek help and report it and if where you report, they don't believe you, go higher up until you get a response," she said.
"This needs to happen for the protection of other women in the future."