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Netflix's 'The Serpent' Targeted Travellers for Theft and Murder. Here's What We Can Learn

Netflix’s true crime drama “The Serpent,” set in1970s Bangkok, follows a Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg who investigates the disappearance of two Dutch backpackers. His pursuit leads him to Charles Sobhraj, his wife Marie-Andrée Leclerc, and friend Ajay Chowdhury. The three had been drugging, robbing and killing tourists who crossed their path along the 'Hippie Trail' for years, using drugs, parties, and charm as lures.

If you watch true crime you'll start noticing common tactics and strategies that the abusers use to select, isolate, and hurt victims. For this reason I recommend being a student of true crime movies, rather than a passive viewer. In this post we discuss what we can learn about travel safety from this show and the horrific crimes committed by Sobhraj.

1. Watch Your Drinks

Sobhraj and his wife both drugged dozens, if not hundreds of people (the true number of their victims is unknown). They drugged victims' drinks at clubs, and when the victim passed out they pretended to be thoughtfully taking them home to rest. Many of those victims were later robbed and murdered. They would also drug their house guests to make them believe that they were sick. Then, they would offer them 'medicine' that they had to take every day, which was actually poisoning them. They did this in order to manipulate people into working for them for free, while they stole their belongings, passports, and essentially enslaved them.

You never know who people are and what they're capable of. Buy your own drinks and never let them out of your sight.

2. Be extremely safe when drinking or taking drugs

When you're drunk or on drugs you have no situational awareness and no ability to defend yourself physically. This is why so many predators target women who have already been drinking or taking drugs. Predators know they won't be able to fight back and that no one will be suspicious if they act as the 'hero' who carry's the girl home.

You must retain your ability to defend yourself.

The most dangerous places in foreign destinations are often the same places that people go to party and socialize. This isn't a coincidence— predators know they'll find foreign targets with money who will be drinking. That's a no-brainer for a predator. If you're going to drink, make sure you take extra precautions. I highly recommend sticking with friends, limiting your drinks so you don't get 'drunk', and not leaving the bar or club with people you just met and don't actually know. Remember that it's always safer to book your own ride home than to accept a ride from someone who offers it.

3. Don't tell people what your plans are or what you have

There's a scene in the show where Sobrahaj's wife Marie meets a young couple on the street. They tell Marie about their travel plans and that they have gemstones which they plan to sell. As soon as Marie hears this, she invites the young couple for lunch. Marie and Sobhraj generously offer to pay for lunch, and once some trust is gained they offer to drive the couple to a tourist spot in the mountains. The innocent couple is thrilled by the offer. Once they get to the mountain, secluded from anyone who could possibly help, Sobhraj drugs them with spiked tea, steals their gems, money, and passports, and murders them.

Don't tell people you meet about your travel plans, including where you're staying, what route you're taking, or what room you're in. Don't reveal anything of value you have on you or brag about having rich parents, going to a private school, or anything that could indicate that you have something they could profit from.

4. Conceal all signs of wealth

We already discussed keeping your travel plans and possessions to yourself, but it's also important not to show your wealth through your clothing and accessories. Remember that wealth is subjective, and while you may not be wealthy in America or Canada, you are absolutely considered wealthy to criminals in Mexico or Brazil. And these criminals are professionals at spotting it. Wearing luxury clothes, showing nice purses and jewelry make you an automatic target. Blend in as much as you can to local attire.

5. Don't trust people because they look nice. Women are predators too.

We often picture bad guys as male. But this show highlights that there are many females who are accomplices to evil men, if not running the show. Ghislaine Maxwell is another example of this. Women are used to lure people because they're seen as more trustworthy. No one thinks a small woman they meet travelling is going to kidnap and murder them, and that's exactly what they take advantage of.

Don't break your safety rules simply because the person is a woman. Remember that 'nice' and 'charm' are not character traits, but acts. A person isn't charm-ing, but they use charm. People are charming when it serves a purpose. They're not charming to everyone all the time. So if you meet someone who just seems so nice and charming and charismatic, ask yourself, what purpose do they have being nice and charming to you, someone they don't even know? Do not mistake this as an immutable character trait.

6. Never go somewhere secluded with a stranger

When Sobhraj didn't drug victims to render them defenceless, he would lure them to a secluded location where he could get away with his crimes undetected. Although it may seem like an intriguing adventure, if someone you meet asks to take you to a 'local favorite', say no. If you want to go, go on your own terms with your own friends, not strangers who could be luring you somewhere you don't even know.

7. Never let someone take your passport

This may seem obvious, but sociopaths are extremely good at deception and manipulation. There could be many reasons someone gives you for needing your passport. Never allow it, and always keep it on you or in a safe place like a locked safe. Once Sobhraj got ahold of his victims passports, he convinced them that they were lost or expired and told them that if they got caught by police they'd go to jail. He used this fear to manipulate his victims into staying away from others and inside his house, where they were guilted into working for their stay.

If you lose your passport or someone uses it against you, immediately go to your country's embassy in that country. Call your parents and tell them what happened. They will help you get a new passport and you'll be okay. If someone is trying to control you, they do not have good intentions for you and you should not stick around to find out what they are.

8. Know the Grooming process

The grooming process is used by predators of all kinds. In short, the grooming process is

  1. identify target

  2. gain targets' trust

  3. isolate target from others

  4. begin abuse

If you notice that someone you met is trying to isolate you from others, doesn't want you to call your parents or friends, wants you to keep secrets or tell lies, you need to get real observant and real careful. Don't be fooled into thinking that you're too smart to be victimized, or that the person your with is too nice to victimize you. It's easy to watch a show like this and pull your hair out yelling 'why are they letting this happen to them! why don't they just leave!' at the TV. But in reality it could happen to anyone.

The best preparation is to learn the common tactics predators use so we can identify danger ahead of time no matter who it comes from or where we are.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"

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Written by Gemma Sheehan, founder of

Girls Who Fight. Our mission is to help women and girls lead safe and confident lives.

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