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Campus safety called into question after ULB student sexually assaulted
After multiple years of campaigns against sexual assault aimed at pushing Brussels authorities to do more to prevent the crime and ensure student safety, a 21-year-old student was raped on a ULB campus.
The awareness movements of the last few years have especially brought into the public discourse the prevalence of sexual assault against university students, which victims and allies have long said goes unpunished and poorly prevented.
A 23-year-old suspect identified in the press by his first name "Yannick" is due to appear in court on Friday, and Bruzz reports that the homeless man was recently released from prison and has previous convictions.
The victim’s father told La Dernière Heure that the perpetrator was “aware of the lack of security measures on campus” and allegedly “waited for prey along the main path that students use to get to the study rooms provided to them by ULB”.
The assault took place on the La Plaine campus in Ixelles at around 20.45 one evening in late December.
“He grabbed my daughter and then dragged her several metres down the path, in total darkness,” the father said.
Awareness campaigns, often led by students, have explicitly asked for greater lighting in public places.
The victim was taken by ambulance to a care centre specifically for victims of sexual violence.
“This is a deep, psychological trauma that will affect her for the rest of her life,” her father said.
The victim filed a complaint, which therefore opens an investigation into the facts, but sexual assault statistics are infamously under-reported due to the fact that many victims are too traumatised or ashamed to press charges.
“As soon as we became aware of the attack, the university authorities contacted the victim,” ULB spokesperson Ophélie Boffa told La Dernière Heure.
“Security guards ensure the safety of our campuses every day and security measures are reinforced during events.”
Boffa said that the university did not wish to comment further “while the investigation is ongoing”.
A security guard for the university said that “during the exam period, we have an average of four security guards on campus, 24 hours a day,” but admitted that “it is also very big here, so we can never prevent this completely”.
Security officers say the main path on which the victim was walking was lit, but that the victim was dragged to a dark place. The victim’s father reported that she screamed loudly and for quite some time during the particularly violent assault, but no help ever came.
Suspect Yannick’s nationality is said to be of the Ivory Coast, and he was allegedly convicted last year for dousing another homeless man with acid and beating him to death with an iron bar.
He was released back in August 2022 after serving 30 months in prison.
“All my thoughts are with the victim of the terrible sexual assault that took place a few days ago on the campus of La Plaine,” said ULB rector Annemie Schaus.
“We contacted her as soon as we were informed of the attack to offer our help and sympathy. Sexual violence is intolerable. The university has been pursuing a proactive policy to curb it for several years. Our university campuses must be safe places for everyone.”
But the victim’s parents are quick to point out that students have been lobbying for years now to make the campuses safer.
“The La Plaine campus has already been the subject of several complaints by other students who are worried about the lack of security and the risk of aggression,” the victim’s parents told media.
This is not the first sexual assault to take place near the Ixelles campus. In September 2017, a serial rapist attacked a young woman who was leaving a student party after posing as a taxi driver.
Years later, students continue to demand greater safety and prevention efforts.