Sexual Harassment on European Streets Revealed in Documentary (Video)

Film student Sofie Peeters moved to Brussels to pursue her craft, but when she got there, she was constantly harassed by an assortment of males as she walked through her neighborhood. Haunted by the experience of being sexually catcalled and insulted, even called a slut, and wondering what she was doing wrong, the young student decided to secretly record the harassment that plagues women in a city that is often equated with European charm.

The film opens with a shot of Peeters wearing a dress and staring out of her apartment window. She says:

Do you know that dream where you suddenly realize you’re naked? You walk down the street, and everyone’s staring at you. You’re ashamed, everyone stares. You’re doing something wrong, but you have no idea what it is.

Peeters collected commentary from young women living in Brussels who had experienced regular harassment in Belgium’s capital. Many women said they prefer not to wear skirts, that they use their ipods as a way to avoid hearing the insults thrown at them from the men. Still many other young women will redirect the routes they travel through the city to avoid the catcalls and some will even avoid public transportation.

The young film student also interviewed some of the young men who call after women. She asked them why they like to yell such insults and jeers. One young man said, “To pass the time, you know.” Another older man said, “If nobody looked at you, wouldn’t you feel bad? You should be thanking us, ‘Thank you for making me feel like a woman.’”

She also asked the young men how she can make it clear she does not want such attention. They told her she should be married, and if she wasn’t, she should fake it and wear a ring. Peeters wittily concludes, “So I need a man to be able to walk the streets peacefully?”

Problems of sexual harassment are common throughout the world, but western Europe has seen a new wave of discussion about the prevalence of this occurrence. The Guardian notes that issues of sexual harassment in France, where a new law is being drafted, and where no law currently exists, has hit home for many people. Just a few weeks ago, a female member of France’s National Assembly was catcalled and hooted at while trying to give a presentation.

Peeters’ film has ignited debates about the sheer number of women who feel intimidated by these types of masculine advances. The feminist group Osez Le Feminisme from France filmed a role-reversal video in which they sexually harass men to illustrate the absurdity and cruelty of the treatment.

The film and the debates it has inspired highlight that the vast majority of women feel objectified and dehumanized by such treatment. While harassers may claim that their calls and phrases are a way to make a woman feel valued and sexy, that is hardly ever the result. Belgian and French politicians have both claimed that new legislation and fines are on the way to making the streets safer and more appealing for women. The question remains, how can such legislation be enforced when women such as Peeters are called at up to 10 times a day by anonymous and intimidating groups of men? Who will report the cases and will women be taken seriously by authorities when they do contact officials?

Related Stories:

Catcalls Plague France’s National Assembly

France’s Sexual Harassment Law Still Too Vague?

At Least 10 Women Raped, Assaulted: Air Force Instructor Gets 20 Years

Photo Credit: DIMSFIKAS


Doug M.
Gina M5 years ago

One of my female friends, who read this article, and it's comments, has lived in Belgium, France, U.S., and Germany; For her, the worst sexual harassment has been in the U.S. New York city! It' s a contagion which has infected males in this entire world, (some more than others)!!!!

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

Since women have been under the control of men for the last few thousand years, the cat calling is understandable. Women are still climbing out of that position in our society. When women's issues are determined by men only and even religious leaders,that have questionable backgrounds, you can see why the men think like they do. A woman can only be complete by a man that thinks she good to look at is not a picture I see. Not that men are evil, but they are conditioned to feel any kind of attention they give a woman is good. There are men that have real understanding about how a woman feels...but they are still not the majority.

Maggie Bradner
Maggie Wilson5 years ago

What is it about Brussels??

I went traveling in Europe in 2009, and I found the cat calling and sexual comments to be fairly mild in most places...but Brussels was awful! Clerks in stores, drinking cofffee, on the buses, in restaurants...everywhere men were calling out, whistling, inviting me back to their apartments or for dinner, taking pictures of me... and this was in February! Bulky winter clothing and no skin to be seen at all! I can't imagine what the summers would be like.

How could the situation possibly be regulated? Sexual harrassment police officers roaming the streets?

Felicia D.
Felicia D5 years ago

This sort of behavior has been going on for over 3000 years. Read the books A History Of Their Own. It's expensive and in two volumes so get it from your library if you can. These books should be required reading in every school and in every nation. I've been a feminist nearly all my life but it was definitely an eye-opening read, that's for sure. Read these books. You will never think of history or the relations between men and women the same way ever again. And stop blaming immigrants or those of other religions than yours. ALL peoples are guilty of this behavior and it's long past time for it to stop.

Berny p.
Berny p5 years ago

This is what happen when goverment are to easy going.....bring stronger laws and the attitude will change.....but of course this WOULD NOT BE ACCEPTABLE BY THE DO GOODERS OF OUR COMMUNITY!!!

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Terrible. I would hate to live there. Men have no respect, no ounce of dignity in them.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago

Such things are heard around the world, but it is not limited to harassment of good looking women. If a woman is too tall, or too fat, or does't have enough bosom, or . . . You name it. Men, but fortunately not all men, think it ok to criticise women no matter what. It seems there is a lack of respect that needs to be addressed.

paul m.
paul m5 years ago

Noted....I wish someone would Cat Call me...!!

J. D.
Josee De vroe5 years ago

This is indeed one-sighted header, the study goes about one specific area in Brussels, and is NOT representing European streets and males (however I do not exclude similar situations on other locations in the world, and that means USA too). I am a Belgian citizen and I know what I am talking about. In those kind of neighbourhoods, Belgian people are in the minority, most of them moved out, and the streets are filled with (mostly) unemployed Arab males, educated by illiterate parents, or worse, by the guys in the streets where they are spending their time after school. They look up to the older ones (that's their culture) and they do exactly the same as their role-models to fit in and to be popular. Spending their time in the streets they are out of their mothers controle at the age of 9. Anyway, most of the call themselves Muslims but in fact they don't know half what the Koran is telling them. If they did, they would be working instead and showing respect for women, and not only the married ones but all women and girls, as they are the future mothers of their children. They have a wrong idea about being muslim and unfortunately this is the image they represent to the world. The good ones are at home, taking care of their family, or at their job and minding their own business , and you do not hear about them. It's a pitty they don't come into the streets to protest against the bad apples that spoil their reputation, we would have a different perception if they took distance