Stop rapes and protect women around Parc du Cinquantenaire
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On Friday 22nd January 2021 at 9pm, I was walking home alone when a man tried to rape me on Avenue de la Chevalerie - close to Parc du Cinquantenaire in Etterbeek, Brussels. Thankfully, I managed to get away.
The next day, when I reported the incident to the police, they told me I was very lucky to have escaped. According to them, there are MONTHLY cases of rape and sexual assault around this area. These usually occur after the sun sets, and sometimes there is more than one man. As a new resident here in Brussels, this came as a huge surprise to me.
When I asked them why there isn't more surveillance and control - since they know it's a hotspot for sexual assault and rape - they replied with regret that 'there aren't enough resources'.
Belgium has one of the highest income tax rates in the world. We have seen how funds can be allocated in times of need to important areas of social protection and care. The recent 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?
When the pandemic subsides, I, like everyone else, will have to go back to the office. I will have to pass through this park TWICE A DAY to get to and from work. Half of these trips on the way home will be in relative darkness, in exactly the same situation that I faced on Friday. With this in mind, another attack - with a potentially worse outcome - is not a question of if, but when. This makes me feel utterly terrified, not just for myself but for other women.
This petition calls for a recognition of this deplorable situation, and decisive, long-overdue local action. Firstly, we propose some short/medium-term solutions - a form of 'quick-fix':
- An effective reallocation of resources to increase police presence around the area
- More surveillance to counteract these monthly 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 lights in and around the park to minimise unsafe dark spots whilst also mitigating the negative effects artificial light has on the environment
- Simple, clear and visible signs in the local area that discourage such behaviour
But of course, this won't be enough for sustained change. These issues cannot be solved with simply more people, lights and signs. These issues run deeper and we all know it. In attempt to address this, we also propose some more longer-term solutions to promote a permanent shift in consciousness. These will look to address the more fundamental societal issues surrounding women's safety, the justice system, violence, sexism, sexuality, culture and community:
- Belgium is one of the countries with the highest rate of rape. According to the 2017 'The Global Rape Epidemic' report by Equality Now, Belgium 'is failing women on rape laws'. Belgium classifies rape as an 'issue of morality, rather than one of violence' and allows 'a perpetrator to be exempt from punishment by reaching a “settlement”, financial or otherwise, with the victim'. Integrating a better understanding and punishment of rape and sexual harassment within Belgian culture and law must be a high priority to ensure the safety of women
- The serious adoption of recommendations provided in the study 'Overview of the worldwide best practices for rape prevention and for assisting women victims of rape' by the European Parliament's Policy Department C on Gender Equality (2013), particularly the notion to 'create an administrative framework ensuring that the relevant personnel, including the police, are adequately trained; that courts have adequate expertise; and that resources are made available to fund specialised services to support victims-survivors.'
- An echo of the demands made by the parents of Julie Van Espen to the Belgian court, related to sexual violence awareness, more sexual care centres, sexual violence training for authorities, additional resource allocation for the justice department and more.
- According to a joint study by Amnesty International & SOS Viol in 2020, many young Belgians are still unclear about sexual consent. A third of young people under 26 believe that you cannot call it rape if a person does not explicitly say “no.” A strengthening of the education program on the social, emotional and sexual life in schools across Belgium, where healthy forms of sexual relationships that avoid violence and are based on consent are promoted, and sexual education through online porn is strongly condemned, discouraged and closely regulated
- It is assumed that 90% of sexually-related offences go unreported and this must change - regular, public encouragement and government/commune campaigning for women to come forward to the authorities or victim support centres for any form of sexual harassment, assault or rape in order to build an ample and undeniable body of statistical evidence of these incidents to ensure these issues are taken seriously by authorities
- A law that requires those found guilty of a serious crime who are awaiting an appeal to be kept in police custody and NOT allowed to be freed whilst they wait for the appeal hearing (an amendment to the law that allowed Julie Van Espen to be murdered)
- The creation (or expansion) of a secure, local app that prevents these crimes and supports local women (e.g. Sekura App, Circle of 6, JDoe etc.)
- Free regular (COVID-friendly) events that celebrate the different elements of Parc du Cinquantenaire and provide a space for awareness and education of different topics to transform the park into a place of safety and inspiration (Women's self-defence classes, open air cinema with educational showings, open public debates and talks on consent and coercion, charity sport matches, masculine/feminine circles etc.)
- More community proposals TBA
Without action, more women will continue to be assaulted, raped and traumatised for life every month as their attackers roam free and unchallenged. To still have this as a prominent issue in Belgium (and the world) in the 21st century is truly shameful.
Please support the well-being of women in 2021 by signing this petition. Every single signature counts and your name will TRULY make a difference. If we can encourage the policy makers in Brussels to set a precedent, the home of the EU, there is hope for a ripple effect to occur in other European countries.
Thank you so much.
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