Chased through the Streets of Brussels
It’s time to be brutally honest: my trip to Belgium was one of my worst.
When my friends and I went to Brussels, we weren’t really sure what to expect except delicious chocolate, fries and some gorgeous Flemish architecture. Being in Europe, it was just supposed to be another city to wander around and fall in love with, until we actually got there and something seemed a little off. The city itself is really dirty and that was a bit off-putting, but we joked about it for the rest of the day and when nightfall came and we had our dinner, it was time for me to check into my hostel for the night and my friends got on a bus to Amsterdam.
This was the time before I had a smartphone, but I’d looked up the location of my hostel before leaving and had the information written down (as everyone should always have). So I went to the area that I thought my hostel was in and lo and behold, it wasn’t there. I called them and asked them where it was and they told me to go to a specific metro station and it would be “right across the street.” Great! It was dark and men were catcalling me, and I just wanted to take a shower and go to bed.
So I went on the really gross metro and found my way to the specific metro stop that was mentioned, which wasn’t in the city centre like Google had said, but on the outskirts of town. I tried both exits; one was across the street from a canal, and the other was across the street from a bank that looked way too much like Gringott’s to be real. It was really dark and there weren’t too many people around, so it was a bit off-putting. I walked around a little to find the street that my hostel was on, and a group of men were asking me if I was lost and talking to each other like, “Guys, I think she’s lost,” but in a joking way. Women know how intimidating this is. I started asking some women where the road was and they had no idea. When I called the hostel again, I asked them where it was in relation to the metro and the two exits. Their answer? “Just ask somebody.” So. effing. rude. Not to mention, I already had and nobody had any idea what I was talking about.
Finally, I found another American woman who said she would walk with me to her hostel and they would help me find mine. I was so thankful and honestly, lucky. When we got to the hostel, the nice lady there gave me a map and told me exact directions on how to get there. The hostel was actually nowhere near the metro so I don’t know what I would’ve done without these two women. When I thought everything was looking up, the whole evening started turning down on me. It was about a half-mile walk in dim light from where I was to the hostel, and on my way, some men started catcalling me and then following me. Just keep calm, I thought. Then a car drove around the corner and two or three men got out and started chasing me, and I ran. I was so terrified. They were legit yelling that they were going to rape me in French, Dutch and English, and I didn’t even know what to do. I didn’t look back but by the time I got to the hostel and was banging on the door to get in, all the men were gone. I don’t know where they went, but it was extremely lucky that my hostel had a well-lit exterior. The men probably didn’t even care enough to continue chasing me but that was also pure luck. My night was terrifying but it could’ve been a lot worse. I thought it was going to be my last night on earth. I’m not religious but it’s moments like these, I think that someone must be looking out for me somewhere.
La pièce de résistance? When I got in, took a shower, and slipped into bed and fell asleep, I was awakened… because someone was shot outside my room. Just… what do I even say about that?
I’m not name-dropping the hostel because even though the man who worked there was rude, he’s not a proper representation of the place and it wasn’t exactly the hostel, but Brussels. I hadn’t been so scared in my life – and that’s saying a lot considering where I’m from. I mean, I live in Baltimore. I felt completely objectified as a woman and incredibly, incredibly unsafe. Nobody should ever feel like that.
I had a lot of men follow me when I was in Ghent, as well, and even though the medieval cities that compose Belgium are absolutely beautiful and popular tourist attractions, the amount of sexual harassment I experienced was incredible. To be honest, I want to go back and see some more cities and things I missed, but I’m too scared to. When I got back to my hostel, I Googled something I didn’t really think about before I got there: “Is Brussels safe?” The horror stories I found were really surprising, especially since so many people visit Brussels and never really talk about how unsafe it is. That’s why I’m writing now. If you want to go to Brussels, especially as a woman, I’d really exercise caution when going. Definitely stay near the city centre and be aware of your surroundings. It’s a shame because Belgium really does have a lot to offer, but this world really does need to make a change for the better.
Posted on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Stories