Dealing with Physical Violence

16 - 17 November 2014. Filed under category Nomad.
Last photo, taken shortly before I was punched.

Last photo, taken shortly before I was punched.

I have been lucky to have escaped any form of violence during my nomadic journey. Sadly, that streak came to an end with an assault last Sunday. This post is partly an account of the assault and partly some hard-earned lessons on dealing with physical violence.

What happened

I attended the gay parade by Copacabana beach in Rio. It was a great day with a million attendees, both partying and demonstrating for gay rights. The centrepiece of the parade was an enormous rainbow flag, as wide as the street and carried forth by the participants. I was one of those underneath the flag.

I felt a slight tug at my camera, and I looked down. For a second, I thought someone was upset that I had been taking photos of the event. It happened so quickly that I never understood that I was in the middle of a robbery. I never had a chance to surrender the camera before I was struck in the face. I never saw my attacker.

My Face Injuries

My Face Injuries

The next thing I remember, I was led away from the flag, still holding the camera, blood streaking down my face. A young girl and boy, late teens, were helping me to the curb. When I was strong enough to walk, they helped me to a medical tent where a quick examination showed that I had a cut below my right eye and a broken tooth. My two young helpers found me a cab and I returned home where I grabbed my passport and insurance information. I also called the only friend I had in Rio, Tainá, who hurried to my side, and we went to the hospital.

I was in the hospital for 5-6 hours, having my face sown shut with four stitches and a CT scan to verify that I didn’t have any severe head injuries. After having received sufficient painkillers to calm me down, Tainá took me to the police station where after 3.5 hours, we finally managed to finish a frustratingly long police report.

Broken Tooth

Broken Tooth

It was now 4 am and far too late to find a dentist to repair my broken tooth. Tainá took me back to her place and in the morning, she helped me find a dentist. It took the dentists 3.5 hours of continuous work to give me a root canal and a temporary new tooth which I’ll have until I can return to Sweden and have a proper one put in place. The dentists said that the canine tooth that broke is one of our strongest teeth, and it rarely breaks. The force of the blow must have been tremendous. That made me feel a bit better, and even more so when they told me that had the punch been weaker, it would not have snapped the tooth but instead pulled it out from the root. Lucky me?

The next day, I went to have a tetanus shot, in case the cut in my face had been caused by some kind of metal.

That, in a very small nutshell, is what happened.

Lessons Learnt

Plan in advance!

Somewhere under the rainbow...

Somewhere under the rainbow…

When disaster strikes, there are several things you will need to do, such as finding a hospital, collect documentation and receipts for the insurance company, file a police report, call your mum and so on. Figuring all of this out when you are in pain and feeling ever so vulnerable is only going to make the situation worse. If you’ve planned for what you are going to do in the case that you are robbed or the victim of physical abuse, then you have a script that you can follow. That script is something you can cling to, helping you to take one step at a time, safe in the knowledge that you are doing ‘what you are supposed to do’. It banishes a lot of the scary uncertainty, something you do not want to add to your list of miseries.

A good place to start when creating your emergency plan is your insurance company. They often have guidelines for what to do in an emergency and potentially a crisis line that you can call to get help finding hospitals etc.

Spending a few hours planning for these eventualities is not something you should only do for long trips abroad. It is just as important for location-dependent ‘normal’ people.

Everybody needs a Tainá

Tainá and I

Tainá and I

I did not have a plan. I had no idea where to find medical help or anything like that. What I did have was a local friend, Tainá. Everybody needs a Tainá. She rushed to my side, and she helped me find the hospital, police station, dentist, vaccination clinic and more. She took care of all the practical stuff, as well as supported me emotionally. She also translated everything, an immense help if you are in a country where you do not speak the language.

I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to have a local friend guide you through the emergency procedures of a foreign city. Find your Tainá!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank her for all her wonderful help! Seriously, you were my saving grace!

Stay upbeat

The two people who helped me out from under the flag.

The two people who helped me out from under the flag.

This is easier said that done, but it is very important to stay upbeat. Being hit is incredibly frightening. You feel violated a perfectly normal reaction is to break down and cry. This is reinforced when everybody around you, rightly so, treat you as a victim. A bit of sobbing is OK, but a full breakdown removes your ability to act when you desperately need to do just that.

The way I fought that was by doing two things. First, I got fucking pissed off. I got angry as all hell. It worked! When I decided to be angry rather than sad, I felt my resolve return. Just be careful not to act on the anger. Acting out against your aggressor, if he or she is still there, probably creates more problems later. Acting out against the people around you trying to help is obviously a bad idea. You need help. Let them know that and don’t scare them away.

The anger worked well at first, but I couldn’t really keep it up, so I switched to forcing myself to be more upbeat and crack as many bad jokes as I could. Hospitals, needles, root canals and all the other bad stuff currently forcing themselves into your life are scary, but you can take the edge of them with a few jokes. It is also a good way to prove to yourself that you are OK.

Try not to cry into your spilled milk

3.5 hours of dental work.

3.5 hours of dental work.

If you have lost something in the attack, anything from a camera to a leg, it is lost. What is done is done. The only thing you can control now is how you are going to react to it.

I am a deeply vain person, and it really fucking bugged me to get an ugly scar on my face and a dead fake tooth. I know, stupid and vain, but I’m being honest here. But what could I do about it? It was done. The more I thought about it, the more my mind exagurated the importance of these things and the more upset I got. Then I made the conscious decision to just accept whatever was without willing it to be different. That helped. It helped a lot and it helped immediately. On one hand, I had what I wanted things to be like, the way they were before the attack. Then there was the reality of what things were really like now. The disconnect between those two things were the cause of my anguish. I could affect one and only one of those two things. Letting go of the wish for things to be like they were before, helped. A lot.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and naturally a lot easier with something as trivial as a scar. If I lost a leg, I doubt I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “too bad.” There is a place for a grieving process, but the goal should always be acceptance, and you may as well state that goal in your mind and start working towards it right away.

The world has not changed

Aerial photo of one of the 47 arrests.

Aerial photo of one of the 47 arrests.

The streets of Rio are no more or less dangerous now than they were before my attack. Nothing has changed. It is easy to take a traumatic personal experience and let it colour every aspect of your world, but that is a mistake. Remember that nothing has changed. The risks are the same now as they were before. You might understand the risks a bit better afterwards, but remind yourself that they are identical to what they were before the attack. Nothing has changed.

“Leave Rio immediately and don’t come back!” was a common reaction from friends and acquaintances when they heard about my ordeal. I don’t see why I should. I understood the risks of Rio when I got here. I took various precautions, but you can never reduce your risks to zero without pre-emptively shooting yourself in the head and escape this world all-together. Life is a long series of calculated risks. Getting in your car and driving to the supermarket is a risk, and it is one that is worth taking since you bloody well need coffee! If you were robbed on your way home, that doesn’t mean you should now cut supermarkets out of your life. Living is risky, but it is totally worth the risk. I knew Rio was a more dangerous city than many others, but I thought it was worth the risk before, and nothing has changed.

I want to be really clear that I am not saying that you should not let bad experiences influence future re-evaluations of risk! What I am saying is that your  bad experience should not be the only factor in future risk evaluations. Rio is no more dangerous now than it was a week ago!

Learn from it

Last photo of me before the incident.

Last photo of me before the incident.

A personal crisis is the perfect opportunity to learn about how you react to rare and terrifying situations. When the dust has settled, it is a good idea to reflect on how you deal with a crisis. Did you find strength within you didn’t know you had? Be proud of it! Did it reveal some personal weaknesses? Cut yourself some slack, but also consider what you can do to improve.

For me, the main thing I learn about myself is that I can tolerate pain better than I had imagined. Physical pain has always freaked me out, but when I was living through it, it just wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

Travel Updates

I’ve had an OK time in Rio, but a bit underwhelming from my expectations. I’ve had a hard time making friends here, feeling a bit disconnected from the spirit of Rio. It is all muscles and beaches and sun and stuff. No gaming, leather or weird-and-wonderful. The city looks amazing, and so does the people. I should be having a great time, but… Meh. It’s been a bit meh. I hope the second half of my time here will improve.


The parade was targeted by an ‘arrastão’, a large gang of poor criminals from the favelas descending on a crowd, using their numbers to intimidate and rob as many people as possible. The event was terribly under-policed. 47 members of the gang was arrested. I don’t know how many they were in total.


Do you have advice for how to handle physical violence?

Skip to bottom
  1. Robby says:

    Wow, really sorry to hear about this but glad to hear you are still mostly hole physically and mentally. By mentally dealing with that event in the way you did you stopped being a victim very quickly and started healing just a quick.
    Bravo for not only dealing with this in such an brave and level headed manor but also for sharing your lessons learned and your thought process.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. I of course hope that the advice will never be needed, but if it is, then I hope it will help. Oh, and if you think the advice is important, then feel free to share the post with you friends! 🙂

  2. J. says:

    Whether nomad or not, you bring up the excellent point of having a plan. Bad things can happen to good people anywhere, anytime.

    It’s important not to carry a mental scar as the physical scar slowly fades. (You’re still handsome, even with head bandage, black eye, and blue rubber dam!)

    1. As an example of this, I had appendicitis while living in London. It came on so quickly, and while doubled over in pain, I had to figure out how to get to hospital etc.

  3. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    Holy Shit, O.K., excuse me for stepping on your Mom’s role, but I would freak if you were my son. Feeling upset looking at your photos as they send me into a kind of PTSD place. All that being said, BRAVO YOU. The scar will fade to the point of making you just more handsome and give you that air of mystery, hmmm, is he a secret agent? where did the scar come from ? etc. Nothing can dim your zest for life, thank God. Yes, be careful but be fearless as usual. Lesson learned. Heal quickly and know there are lots of us out here who care for you. Peace

    1. I think my cover story for the scar is going to be that I was the one who got away from Dexter. (That reference will only make sense to those who’ve seen the series.)

      1. Karen J says:

        “I got away from Dexter!” – love it!!

        Thank you for sharing your experience and, especially, your actions and reactions! I’m taking it all in for dealing with some psychological shock-and-dismay currently happening in my life.

        Bright Blessings to you ~

  4. J. says:

    I am such a rational person, that I sometimes forget the emotional component. Bravo to Crys for saying what I was feeling but neglected to say.

  5. Phil says:

    So very sorry to hear of this unfortunate and potentially damaging incident. Not the best of posts to be writing about I’m sure, but necessary nonetheless in the context of your dealing with and overcoming it. Kudos to you for your measure of resolve Gustav and not forgetting the young couple and friend who came to your aid. Keep on nomading and BTW…. scars can be dead sexy!

  6. Craig Btown says:

    Saving my reaction to your travails for a private message, I’ll respond to your question here.
    During my years living in New York City I was mugged twice. As anyone who knows me knows, and as I thought I knew myself, you’d be hard pressed to find a more peaceful and gentle person than me. To my utter surprise, however, I became fierce beyond rationality when attacked. Realizing I must have been a ninja warrior in a past life I sent one assailant flying across a subway car. Another time, in the 4am darkness of Penn Station, I slammed my suitcase into a guy who had a knife around my throat. My inner voice said “No Fucking Way.” This is good to know about myself because it’s not necessarily the best response; I was lucky those two times. If it happened on the airplane, however, I’ll be grateful for my inner Ninja because that will probably be the real deal. This is a good situation to “Know Thyself.”

    1. Wow, I have to agree with you on both accounts. No, you don’t come across as someone who have a secret ninja side and, yes, it is probably a bad idea to fight back against someone with a knife!

  7. Craig Btown says:

    One other unrelated thing. Traumatic or intense life experiences have a tendency to shine a bright light on the character of the people around you. Angels can appear from nowhere. Of course, Taina proved what a true friend she is. But I hope you also got exchanged contact info with the two youngsters who helped you immediately. They are the kind of people it’s good to know and you might very well have the chance to give back to them in the future.

  8. Gustav,
    I am very glad you are safe. And that you had an angel who took such good care of you. It seems powers greater than yourself had your back. In all the time I’ve been following, this is the first time this has come up. It is always good to be prepared, and you followed some script when it all went down, which meant you were, in a sense, partially prepared, but not knowing the total encounter. One must be always careful and vigilant of people and places. This is one sad moment in a journey that has been otherwise fulfilling and enlightening. I wish you a speedy recovery and I hope you are safe for the time being. Don’t let this mar the rest of your visit. I know we are all concerned for your safety on the main. Be well and do take care.


  9. Jono says:

    …but the camera was okay, yes?

    1. Yep. It is a bit bloody, but thankfully none of it got on the lens. I was very very lucky.

  10. Matoo says:

    Sorry to read this. That’s indeed bad luck and I’m happy you decided to stay. (Luckily, your cute face hasn’t been dammaged. ^^ #badjoke)

  11. Me says:

    I am carioca and left Rio years ago to live in São Paulo(I know, I know…). “Rio de Janeiro is not for the layman” is the most common thing I say to anyone willing to go there. I’m not going to say more than that, otherwise this will become a wall text.

  12. Hogarth says:

    Good stuff Gusty, I’m proud to be your friend, you have courage and I’ve always admired that quality in you. I hope this your last brush with violence, but violence is part of humanity and the world at large and is tricky to avoid for a whole lifetime.
    It’s very good that Taina was there: a guardian angel, quite literally, to show you the way. Without her I think things would have been very scary indeed.
    But you’re alive and well which is the most important thing.


    1. Aww, thanks Hogie! That is amazingly sweet of you. I’m fine. See you before Xmas!

  13. PDragon says:

    Glad you are OK. Remember, what doesn’t kill you only leaves you horribly scarred and toothless! Vanity be damned you haven’t lost your charm ☺ Enjoy the rest of your time there.
    P I & T

  14. Henrique Marques says:

    Fico muito triste pelo o ocorrido com vc , se precisar de algo fique a vontade , ganha hj um amigo
    meu face se vc tiver , grande abraço

  15. Lucas says:

    Oh, I am sorry you’ve been through all this violence. I am 19 yo, Carioca and some friends asked me to go to the gay pride but I didn’t want to go cause I’ve had a bad experience back in 2012. Anyway, I am glad I didn’t go, many people got robbed etc. You are such a handsome guy and I am really glad you are fine now. Greetings!

    1. Thank you. I would be careful going back to the Pride parade, but I would still go. Pride, and other gay manifestations, are important. Visibility is our only way to collectively be recognized, and recognition is the best way for us to get the rights we deserve as human beings. It can be scary, but in the words of Harvey Milk, we all need to come out of the closet.

      1. Lucas says:

        I know. I still need to do that (come out). haha

      2. Matoo says:

        I could not agree more with what you wrote. Thank you for that. 😉

  16. EDSON says:


  17. Kenya says:

    I’m so sorry that you past throught it in my country. I wouldn’t find such a nice blog and person without that situation. Incredible your writing. I hope you all the best.

  18. Niicaux says:

    Hi Gustav,
    I was passing through trying out your Image Wall plugin – which is absolutely brilliant by the way, when I happened by your story here.
    I love reading all your stories and of your travels and am inspired.
    You sound like an awesome human being.

    1. Thank you very much! Quite the compliment!

Do you have advice for how to handle physical violence?

Click to see allowed HTML.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <ol> <ul> <li>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.