Women who feel unsafe in the streets of Tilburg
In 2021, street harassment continues to be a big problem. Since June, Tilburg has a hotline where street harassment can be reported. From those reports, it is clear so far that the victim is always a woman or LHBTIQ+ person, and the perpetrator is always male. Noëlle Zarges made a photo series of women who feel unsafe in the streets of Tilburg. From the park to the train station.
“At the Trouwlaan, street harassment hits almost every day, but what I experienced here this past summer surpasses everything.
“It was a summer afternoon, and I went to take away the bottles. I was wearing a skirt to just above my knee and a black shirt—not to say that that should matter.
“The moment I wanted to cross the road, my path was blocked by a man cycling in front of me at walking pace, so that I could not pass him. While doing so, he took his time to visually undress me from head to toe. He even leaned over in an attempt to look under my skirt.
“This went on until he was around the corner and had to twist his neck to the point that he was no longer able to. I estimated him to be around 60 or so. I was 22.
“I’ve never felt so dirty. Am I saying that men shouldn’t look? No. Am I saying that men shouldn’t visually undress me? Yes.”
“Once in a while, I take a walk through the City Park in Tilburg during the day. Regularly there are unsavory types who look at me, no matter what I am wearing.
“This happened last year when I was walking to the exit of the park to go home. A man came walking next to me and asked where I was going. Ignoring him and walking briskly didn’t work. When we got to a busy area, I asked him several times if he would leave, hoping he wouldn’t get angry or aggressive.
“As he kept walking alongside me, I got closer and closer to my house. I knew I had to go past the place where I would feel safe so he wouldn’t know where I lived. Fortunately, at some point, he left and I was able to go home.
“These are things I don’t want to be involved with at all. I don’t want to have to categorize men between probably ‘harmless’ or ‘dangerous’. I want to be able to greet people on the street without potential consequences. I want to be able to go to a park without worrying about my safety.”
“When I still lived in Tilburg, I walked past this parking lot almost every day. During the day, there were usually homeless people, with their half liters of beer, who shouted at me or looked at me from head to toe. In the evening and at night it was mostly young people in their cars with their red bull, cigarettes, and laughing gas. They were the worst.
“I remember very well walking back home from 013 Poppodium. I was about twenty weeks pregnant. From a car, they called to me to get in. I completely ignored this and decided to walk faster.
“Not even ten seconds later another group said: ‘I want to taste your milk!’ Besides the fact that this made me very uncomfortable, it also made me very nauseous. What kind of a strange remark was this?
“Since that remark I have never gone home by that road. At least not alone.”
“I was on the train back to Tilburg, and I noticed that one man was trying to make eye contact by staring at me the whole time. At that moment, I mainly found it strange and uncomfortable, but the train was full, which gave me a safe feeling.
“When the train arrived in Tilburg around 4 pm, I tried to get off the train as quickly as possible. I had a bad premonition. I started walking faster, but I felt someone was following me. To check if that was really the case, I started to walk more slowly. I looked back, and as I expected the man I saw in the train was following me. Before I knew it, he was walking next to me.
“‘Nice jacket you got,’ he said. I thanked him politely. His response was: ‘You are very beautiful, do you have a boyfriend? Where do you live?’
“I told him I didn’t know him and that he should leave me alone. Meanwhile, I walked on and said again that I wasn’t interested, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He even asked for my number.
“I didn’t give any signal that I would want this. Fortunately, my bus was already there, so I was able to quickly get on and escape, but if the bus hadn’t been there… “
“I often walk along the Spoorlaan. It’s a busy street where many people walk, but as a woman you quickly feel unsafe. You often look back to make sure no one is walking behind you and you’re always on your guard.
“Before this current lockdown, I also worked every late shopping night in the city. When my colleagues and I had finished, we would always gather in front of the exit to prevent anyone from having to walk to the station alone. We did this automatically, and we would often talk about not wanting to walk alone at night along the Spoorlaan and around the station. Even though we walked with a whole group, I often felt vulnerable.
“On the one hand, I think it’s nicer to walk down the street together. On the other hand, it’s a bad thing that women have to walk down the streets in a group and still feel unsafe and vulnerable. This bears witness to the collective experiences of street harassment and feeling unsafe in the street by women and LHBTIQ+ people. It makes me very angry that this is the daily reality for the majority of us.
“In my opinion, everyone should just be able to walk down the street safely and without getting bothered. Ask yourself if you contribute to this and how, and if you might be perpetuating it. Dare to speak to friends and acquaintances about transgressive behavior. Only together can we ensure a climate on the street where everyone feels safe.”
“I worked in a pub here for two years, also during carnival of course. Then in particular did I suffer a lot of sexual harassment. A hand was easily put around my waist, and once I was even followed from here to the Piusplein by two boys.
“I just wanted to go home and because of them I took a different route than normal, but they kept following me. Then I finally approached a bouncer at a pub, and he helped me.
“While working in the pub, it always bothered me a lot. I would just ask ‘what do you want to drink?’ and would get a response like ‘well I’d rather have your phone number.’
“I’ve also had to really remind men several times that I’m paid to be nice to them, which doesn’t mean I want anything from them.
“My male colleagues were never bothered in this way.”
“You can, of course, always approach someone or say that someone looks nice. But there is a big difference between cycling up to someone shouting ‘Hey baby, hot outfit’ or approaching someone in a normal way.
“I ignore this (most of the time) and walk on, and I will continue to do so. But the fact that it happens so often that I take it for granted is exactly where the problem lies. I know many girls and women who walk in the streets feeling anxious, both during the day and at night. But perhaps rightly so, because unfortunately a lot of things still happen that cannot be tolerated.
“That’s why it remains important that we talk about this and why I like to make myself heard so that everyone can walk down the street without feeling unsafe.”
“In the afternoon, I decided to go for a run with my dog in the park. After about 3 minutes of walking in the park, I was suddenly touched from behind. A man cycled behind me and grabbed my buttocks. He squeezed me so hard that even through my sweatpants he was almost inside me.
“Trembling with anger and fear I walked home. Knowing that calling the police was useless, but my sense of unsafety only increased.
“I felt violated, dirty, and gross. A strange man had been touching my body and who knows what dirty things he thought in the process.
“Why he did this, I will never know, but I have never returned to that park by myself since. I’m sure he did.
“I have to constantly hear that it’s not all men. And that’s true, but it is almost all women who suffer from this.
“Are we not allowed to flirt anymore? Suppose you made all women feel unsafe just so you could flirt. Besides, we all know the difference between an innocent sincere flirtation and making a dirty pass.
“We are screaming our heads off on social media, but you guys are silent or screaming at us. Instead of constantly downplaying the problem, help out, and denormalize this behavior.”
One in ten women is a victim of sexual violence, and every 10 days, a woman dies from domestic violence. These serious events usually take place at home, but it is not much safer for a woman on the street.
Are you a victim? The Tilburg Municipality has a hotline (in Dutch) where street harassment can be reported.