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Brussels-South police zone proposes special training for sexual assault cases
In light of the recent protests against sexual assault and abuse of women in Brussels, one of the capital’s police zones has announced that it will begin training specialised officers to deal with sex crimes and work with victims.
However, the announcement by the Brussels-South police zone has been criticised by the collective Balance Ton Bar which is working to involve all areas of society to prevent sexual violence in Brussels.
Balance Ton Bar’s Maïté Meeus said that there should be no need to specially train police officers as all officers should know what to do. "This is about human competences that every officer should have," she said. "I think there are so many cases of sexual and other violence against women that this kind of training within the police force shouldn’t be something special. For me, it is a basic skill to be able to listen to a victim in an appropriate way."
However, many women still too often encounter victim-blaming and disbelief when they report sexual violence to the police. "Some victims feel that they are being laughed at and not listened to,” she added. “This often causes a second trauma, in addition to the first trauma caused by sexual violence."
This is something that Jurgen De Landsheer, the chief of police for Brussels-South admits is a problem that the specific training will address. "Our police officers do not have superpowers, they can’t do everything,” he said. “They need to know so many things and be able to understand what to do if something like this comes their way."
De Landsheer suggests that the fact that some police officers don’t know what to do when faced with a case involving sexual assault is down to their young age. But, he says, extra training will help. "We have been working with the Care Centre for Sexual Violence (ZSG) for a few years now." The ZSG has departments in the hospitals of Ghent (UZ Gent), Brussels (CHU Saint-Pierre) and Liège (CHU Liège). De Landsheer said that the experience of working with ZSG will inform the extra training which will be given to the specialist officers.
De Landsheer has also proposed the creation of a tailor-made victim centre, located away from the police stations where victims of sexual violence can be received and referred in an appropriate way.
The focus on the training of specialist officers within the Brussels-South police zone comes at a time when an investigation by the Brussels prosecutor’s office into several alleged rapes and sexual assaults by a bartender in Waff cafe is underway.
The bar in Ixelles was again vandalised over the weekend, being daubed in pink paint a few days after slogans were sprayed on its shutters during a protest against sexual violence in the neighbourhood last Thursday. Since the allegations against the suspended barman surfaced, Waff's bar staff have been the target of threats and insults.
Starting next week, Balance ton Bar will be meeting with various feminist collectives from Brussels to brainstorm on a series of measures that bars in the city should take to make the capital’s nightlife safer for women. "It is then a matter of ensuring that these measures are effectively enforced," Meeus said.
The municipality of Ixelles is also planning a meeting with Balance Ton Bar next week. Mayor Christos Doulkeridis announced last week that his municipality will take action to step up the fight against sexual violence. Balance Ton Bar will ask that the authorities do not decide on these measures on their own, but to consult with various women's collectives. "They have been fighting this battle for a long time," argued Maïté Meeus.