Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Fredericksburgh VA, Jacksonville NC, Los Angeles, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Palo Alto, Portland ME, Richmond VA, Rutgers University, San Francisco
My girlfriend and I were walking home from the tram stop at about one in the morning on a weeknight. We decided to go via the Meir as it’s quite well lit and we thought it would be safe. We noticed a guy walking towards us on our side of the pavement. He was staring at us in a strange way so my girlfriend (an Antwerp local and unfortunately used to all the harassment here) steered me into the Jezusstraat, in a totally different direction to the way the guy was walking. He changed direction and followed us, and started calling out to us. We walked faster and tried to ignore him, but he caught up with us and started harassing us, asking us personal questions and saying suggestive things. My girlfriend told him very politely that we weren’t interested, that we were meeting people and that they were expecting us. The guy wasn’t deterred, and said that he was coming with us. We couldn’t shake him off, and he followed us for a couple of hundred meters, pushing closer and closer to us, all the while with us telling him to leave us alone. I was quietly panicking and looking around for someone to ask for help, but the street was unusually deserted. It started to sink in that we were really in trouble.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man emerging from a nearby apartment building with a German Shepherd on a leash. My girlfriend and I both stared straight at him, trying to convey silently that we needed help. In hindsight I’m not sure why we didn’t just call out to him, but thankfully this man got the message anyway and marched straight over to us. He asked, “Is everything alright here?” and we told him that no, it wasn’t, and that this guy was following us. The guy who was harassing us put on a smile and said, “We know each other, we’re friends. We’re going home together.” Thankfully the man with the dog wasn’t fooled, and asked my girlfriend in Dutch whether she knew this guy. She told him that we had no idea who he was, that he was following us and that we were really scared. The man with the dog then stepped in on our behalf, coming between the guy and us and demanding that he stop following us. Still smiling, the guy refused. The man with the dog reiterated his demand very firmly, and again the guy refused, and said that he was going with us no matter what.
At this point the man with the dog told us to just get out of there, and that he would handle the situation from there. We thanked him and hurried off, and when I looked over my shoulder I saw the man and his dog blocking the creepy guy’s path, the dog dancing back and forth trying to trip him up. We arrived home safe but very shaken.
A couple of days later we rang the doorbell of the man with the dog. We wanted to check that he hadn’t come to any harm, and also to thank him, so we’d brought some chocolates and a bag of dog treats. He came down into the street to talk to us, and he seemed really surprised that we’d come by to thank him. He told us that on that scary night, after we’d hurried away, he had tried to talk to the guy who had harassed us, telling him that it wasn’t okay to treat people like that. Apparently the guy’s reply was something along the lines of “I don’t care what they want, I want to have sex tonight and if I want it, I’m having it”. He had then pushed past the man and the dog and sprinted off after us, looking down the streets where he thought we might have gone.
This experience was terrifying and, unfortunately, not an isolated one. Coming from a country where this kind of harassment rarely happens (although make no mistake, it does happen), it’s a huge shock to arrive in a city where harassment is a daily occurrence. I don’t dare hold my girlfriend’s hand in many parts of town, and just walking down the street in the middle of the day (girlfriend or not) is enough to get stares, whistles and lascivious comments. I also feel the need to point out that neither I nor my girlfriend look obviously gay (I shouldn’t have to mention that, but unfortunately it’s necessary). A lot of the time the aggression directed towards me and my girlfriend is simply because we’re women. Being gay is just the icing on the harassment cake. I thank my lucky stars for that kind man with his dog, otherwise I’m sure this story wouldn’t have ended with chocolate and dog treats, but with something much more sinister.
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