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Brussels expat demands response to sexual assaults at Cinquantenaire

15:16 26/01/2021
A young woman from Barcelona has launched a petition to try to get authorities to do something about the regular incidents of sexual harassment and assault in and around Cinquantenaire park

A Brussels expat has launched a petition demanding more police presence, a neighbourhood watch and improved lighting in the area around Cinquantenaire park. The woman narrowly avoided being raped when she was walking on a street near the park late last week and has discovered that it is not an isolated incident.

Carla R, who arrived in Brussels not so long ago from Barcelona, was accosted on Avenue de la Chevalerie at about 21.00 last Friday evening. “You know that feeling that someone is following you? I felt that, turned around and a man was standing right behind me,” she told Bruzz.

She stood out of the way to let him pass her, but he grabbed her. “I shook him off and began to walk away very quickly, but he grabbed my arm. I knew I was in trouble.”

She decided to try to talk her way out of the situation. “I acted friendly and asked him all kinds of questions,” she said. “He didn’t answer much and just kept giving me this really creepy look, but at least we were walking.”

Then she saw someone further up the street walking a dog. “I had hope. I then asked the man what he wanted from me, and he made an obscene gesture that made it clear he wanted to rape me. In order to make that gesture, he had to let go of my arm, and I began to run as fast as I could – all the way home.”

During that journey home, Carla said she passed two men near the Merode metro station who began to yell at her, calling her all kinds of names.

Monthly reports

The next day, she decided to report the assault on Avenue de la Chevalerie to the Montgomery zone police. “At first, I had this sense of embarrassment,” she confided to Bruzz. “I thought it would be too difficult to identify the suspect because of the facemask, but, in the end, I decided to do it anyway. I thought at least it can be included in the statics for sexual violence.”

Then at the police station, she heard something that surprised her, she reveals on her petition page. They told Carla that she “was very lucky” to have escaped and that they have received monthly reports of sexual assault in the area for years.

“Monthly cases of rape and sexual assault that usually occur after the sun sets, and sometimes there is more than one man,” Carla writes. “As a new resident here in Brussels, this came as a huge surprise to me.”

She asked why there was not more surveillance in the area if it is a hotspot for sexual assault. “They replied that there aren’t enough resources.”

Carla finds this unacceptable. “Belgium has one of the highest income tax rates in the world,” she writes. “We have seen how funds can be allocated in times of need to important areas of social protection and care. The Covid pandemic is a prime example. This, I believe, is not a question of resources, but of priorities. If Brussels – the heart of the European Union – cannot protect women from being raped on a monthly basis in an area of the city that is quite literally on the doorstep of the EU quarter, where government officials work every day, what hope is left for women’s safety elsewhere?”

Carla posted the petition on Change.org on Sunday, and it already has nearly 3,000 signatures. The petition lists six demands:

  • Increased police presence in the area
  • More surveillance to counteract the incidents that have been occurring for years
  • The creation (or expansion) of a neighbourhood watch in the surrounding areas of the park in Etterbeek, as a form of deterrent and community support network for local residents
  • An increase (or installation) of solar-powered LED lights in and around the park to minimise unsafe dark spots
  • Simple, clear and visible signs in the local area that discourage such behaviour and promote a shift in consciousness on this sensitive issue
  • A secure, local app that helps facilitate the report of incidents and support of local women

The comments section of the petition’s page attests to how many women are afraid to walk through Cinquantenaire after dark and how many have been harassed. “Talking about this is my therapy, and I want to show other victims that they are not alone and should not be ashamed,” Carla told Bruzz.

In the meantime, she is in contact with a woman who specialises in self-defence training for women. They hope to organise an event in Cinquantenaire once coronavirus restrictions allow it. “If the government is not going to protect us, then we need to do it ourselves.”

Photo ©Siska Gremmelprez/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw

Comments

Frank Lee

Belgium has 342 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants. The EU's average is 318. And yet the answer was "there aren’t enough resources.”
Maybe if the police would get out a little bit more and patrol the streets, instead of sitting in a car or in an office...
In most major European cities, you see police presence around major gathering spots. I rarely see them here on the Grand' Place, Monnaie, or other such spots.

Jan 27, 2021 15:11
Rocioexexpat

Something similar happened to me 2 year ago. I was going back home when I was assaulted in the parc, the reaction of the policeman when I told him was nearly it was my fault, they did not take into account what happen, because I tried to defend myself with an umbrella. They said it was the man who should report me to the police for attacking him.
I felt very bad for so long, and the only thing I understood is that I wasn´t in security there because no woman is secure in Brussels. Carla we stand with you!

Jan 28, 2021 15:19
shirley.foxcastle

I must admit that I would never cross any park after sundown. There were a few muggings I heard of in the 1980s and flashers, but I live near the 50aire Park and have never heard of any recent problems. Carla's experience was shocking, especially as the area is a "good" one and she was not even in the Park. I can only assume that some men target the area because of the proximity of the Park. Let's all protest at the lack of security. I chose to buy in this area as it was near my work at the EU and comparatively "safe". GO, CARLA!

Jan 28, 2021 16:52
shirley.foxcastle

I hesitated to add a socio-economic/"racist" angle to my comment above. Carla sounds like a highly-educated, high-achieving expat, probably independent and single. We are prey to uneducated, unemployed young men, often of Maghreb heritage, whose way of treating women differs widely from our own countries' customs. I have experienced these cultural differences near the South Station and Schaerbeek in particular, but rarely in Etterbeek. They tend to hang around in groups and even if most are harmless, women find their behaviour unsettling. I don't like to make remarks about race but I have witnessed these things for 40 years in Brussels. I have had close friends from the Maghreb community, but old male attitudes die hard. Attacks are of course criminal and the police must stop this situation. I now know that I'm a real (new) Belgian citizen, as most old Belgians agree with me in secret... Just scratch the surface!

Jan 28, 2021 23:58