My #MeToo Moment at a Hostel in Broome
Before you read this, I want you to know that I am okay. A little shaken up, but physically fine. I was very lucky.
I don’t write this to freak anyone out or discourage you from staying at hostels — this hasn’t stopped me and won’t in the future, but I will probably be booking all-female dorms for a while. Note also that I’m purposely not saying the name of the hostel because it was an honest mistake, I’ve received apologies from the staff, and was compensated for my stay as a result of this. Plus, this kind of thing could have happened anywhere in any country at any time.
I arrived in Broome a few days before my epic tour through Western Australia’s Kimberley region, which I promise to write about soon. I’d never been to this part of Australia so was eager to get out and explore. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, great for a break on a road trip between Perth and Darwin, but aside from about two to three days worth of sightseeing — the historic downtown is cute and nearby Cable Beach is a nice spot to see the sunset — there’s not a whole lot to keep you busy.
The first two nights of my stay were completely uneventful. I’d booked an all-female dorm and was thrilled (at first) to find it completely empty. A night of solitude was exactly what I needed, but by my second night alone I was starting to get bored. By the time night three rolled around, I was still alone and starting to miss talking to people. That’s the best part about staying at hostels after all, the chance to easily make friends and meet new people, fellow travelers from all over the world. I’d had a few conversations with the front desk girls but let’s face it, this hostel was pretty quiet. So when I returned to my room on night three and found evidence that someone else had checked in, I was thrilled to finally have a roommate.
The only problem was it looked like the bags and flannel shirts on the bed across the room from mine belonged to a man. I’d been under the impression that this was an all-female dorm, but honestly, I’ve stayed in mixed dorms before — in Phuket City, I was literally the only girl in a room full of dudes and it ended up being really fun chatting and getting to know everyone — so it really wasn’t a big deal. I decided to take the same approach, start a conversation to help me suss things out and see if I felt safe enough to share a room with him that night.
When he came back from the bathroom, I said hello. He was a very, very large indigenous man who had driven all the way up from Alice Springs, seemed nice, and was on his phone the whole time (so was I). As we chatted briefly about where we were from, how he had family in the Bronx, and how we were both excited to see this part of the country, I decided I felt comfortable enough to stay. Plus, he’d be leaving in the morning before my tour started.
Everything was fine until the lights went out. I heard him get into his bed across the room from me and after I said goodnight, a few minutes went by before he said, “Hey, Kaeli, Can I ask you something?” I didn’t know if he wanted the lights turned back on or if he needed to borrow toothpaste or something so I said, “Yeah,” yawning loudly so he knew I was sleepy. He said it really fast and it was hard to understand at first, but I had a bad feeling in my gut as I made out the words, “I’ll give you $100 if you come over here for a few minutes and ... ??? ... if you want.” I was more surprised that this guy was actually being this stupid than anything else but quickly said, “No thanks. I’m gonna go to sleep now,” to which he responded, sounding somewhat pissed off, “Hey. I’m trying to give you $100.” I responded with a tone that showed I was even more pissed off, saying, “No, I’m good.” He (thankfully) gave up on the idea and rolled over, mumbled something about how he snores sometimes, and went to sleep. I like to think I embarrassed him and shamed him into silence. Good.
At this point, my shock turned to pure and utter rage. Who the fuck did this guy think he is to say something like that, especially when I’m the only girl in the room and he’s so much bigger than me? And my God did he snore. I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to. Naturally, I was too angry to sleep and spent most of the night tossing and turning, securing myself in my blankets and making sure he was still snoring. I seriously think it was a terrible judgement call on his part and he regretted it as soon as it happened, but who knows. I lost a lot of sleep that night because I was too intimidated and angry to let my guard down and that just sucks. Anytime he stopped snoring, I found myself wide awake, waiting to see if he was getting up. He didn’t move until it was morning and I pretended I was asleep until he left for good.
At the time, I was under the impression it was too late to change rooms since the desk was closed but I later found out there was an after hours number I could have called in case of an emergency. Honestly, although this had been a harrowing experience, deep down I really didn’t feel like I was in any immediate danger. If I had thought he would get up out of bed and come after me, I would have been out of there in a few seconds. But this was a very, very large individual who seemed to have trouble breathing whenever he made any sudden movements so I doubt he would have bothered. He did ask me to come over to him, after all.
The next day, I managed to sleep a few hours after he quietly packed up his things and left shortly after dawn. Our tour didn’t start til about 10am so I got as much shut-eye as I could before heading over to the front desk to verify that my room would indeed be an all-female dorm my final night at the hostel — it was, and I had a wonderful time getting to know some of the ladies I ended up spending the next 10 days hiking and camping through the Kimberley with as most of them were on the same tour. Like I said, I received multiple apologies, was compensated for the trouble night, and was assured that they’d be more careful about room assignments — it was likely the only room available that night and the girl on duty hadn’t realized the little lady / big dude dynamic at the time.
While nothing physically happened to me that night, I was confronted with a sense of intimidation and fear unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Thank God I’m such a tough cookie and can whip up my ferocious inner New Yorker when I need to — I truly believe that’s what shut him up, the fact that I was NOT having any of his bullshit. But what if I had been a younger, 20-something backpacker who was hard up on cash and could have used that $100? Personally, I wouldn’t have let anything happen but what if the next girl he shares a room with isn’t as strong? How many other girls have been put through something like this because guys think they can get away with being creepy assholes? In the end, he did get away with it, too, since he left early that morning before I had a chance to tell the front desk ladies my story. I like to think he’s ashamed of himself, even rightfully humiliated — big dude was actually tip-toeing around the room that morning packing up his stuff so I wouldn’t wake up — and won’t try it again. Then again, I’ve always been an optimist.
Perhaps the silver lining to all this is that it’s taken me about seven months of being on the road to have a remotely negative experience. I’ve been to five countries, stayed in many, many hostels along the way, and have never had any issues. Since that night, I’ve stayed at other hostels, too, and it’s all been fine, so I don’t feel unsafe in that shared environment and probably never will. I will, however, be more vigilant and opt for all-female dorms unless I have male friends I’d like to travel with in mixed dorms. All I can say is we have to be strong, ladies. There are a lot of idiots out there.