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Half of all girls limit use of public space due to sexual harassment

17:58 21/06/2021

Half of young women living in Belgian cities alter the way they use public space in order to avoid being sexually intimidated, harassed or assaulted. The figures comes from Plan International Belgium, which is taking part in the Safer Cities project.

The local chapter of Plan International, which advocates for children’s rights and equality for girls in 75 countries, is working on the Safer Cities project in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Charleroi. The organisation spoke to 700 people between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2019 and carried out a survey among a further 2,975 young people this year to compile the new report.

Intimidation and harassment can consist of inappropriate comments or being pestered and/or followed by someone who won’t take no for an answer. Assault refers to groping or rape. According to the organisation’s report, 95% of victims who file a police report in Belgium are girls, but only 6% of girls who had undergone such an experience reported it to police.

Girls report this kind of behaviour everywhere in the city at any time of day or night. One-third of the incidents happen on the street, 17% during an activity in public space, like in a park or bar, and 15% on public transport.

No-go zones

A full half of the girls said they alter their own behaviour in public space to avoid unwanted advances. They do this through changing their route, avoiding certain places altogether or only going out in the evenings in the company of friends, essentially limited their freedom in public space.

“Our research shows the true extent of the problem,” says Heidy Rombouts, director of Plan International Belgium. “On that basis, we can and must take more targeted action, together with the cities. This will involve everyone who can make a difference in the fight against sexual harassment.”

For Safer Cities, the organisation will work with city officials, youth groups, the police and public transport services in order to implement ‘the four Ps’: Prevention, protection, participation and prosecution.

Plan International will also launch campaigns in the four cities aimed at the greater public. These will encourage bystanders to say something when they see or hear such harassment happening. Some 80% of the girls who took part in the study said that there were no reactions from other people in the vicinity.

There is also a platform where girls and women can report exactly where they were harassed in any of the participating cities. Plan International will use the data to determine trouble spots.

Photo courtesy Plan International Belgium


Written by Lisa Bradshaw