Make Brussels Public Transport safer for Women
Make Brussels Public Transport safer for Women
I was assaulted and robbed at Brussels Midi Station on 14th December, Tuesday evening at around 11pm. The police were too ‘under-staffed’ to go across the road and take action against the perpetrator. Many of us are scared to travel in our own city. These crimes may be viewed as petty by the police and government, but they are traumatising and stay with us.
As a woman commuting on my own I am asking for two key things in this petition:
- Heavier police presence, specifically in our train and metro stations.
- Stronger retaliation and action from our police when we experience a violent or sexual assault.
The state of Midi and North station in Brussels as we all know, is terrible. Too many of us feel unsafe in these stations and too many attacks are ignored. In a few hours of sharing my story I’ve received hundreds of messages from women sending me their own very dark and similar stories in stations throughout Brussels. What seems too common: Police often reacting with the same ‘sorry we are under-staffed’. I have pinpointed women in the title as indeed, it is mainly women who have reached out over the same concerns. Naturally, we are an easier target.
The stations are sweeping and very large in size, a hotspot for criminal behaviour. Culprits lurk in corners, unmanned, preying on their next victim (apparently with no repercussions). Our stations turn into lawless jungles at night and it is not acceptable to brush off violent behaviour. We need a crackdown on violence in these stations. As a woman, it is especially unsafe and that shouldn't be OK with our politicians. I have a commute to make and sure, I can take an Uber, but that's not really a fair fix for this problem, is it? I should be able to use public transport and I shouldn't feel terrified and have to pay a premium to get around.
According to a report commissioned by interior minister Annelies Verlinden...
In 2016 Criminal acts committed in our train stations: 3,902
In 2019 Criminal acts in Brussels stations had risen to: 7,942
I don't have the statistics for 2021, but I would bet it follows the same harrowing pattern... the situation is already out of hand.
According to The Brussels Times, BNP Paribas Fortis actually employed bodyguards to accompany staff to and from Brussels North station due to complaints of an unsafe environment. Bank spokesperson Hilde Junius explained “Several of our colleagues no longer feel safe in recent weeks, which is why we are now deploying security staff. There are concerns loiterers who also make comments, especially to our female colleagues, which makes them feel threatened”. This highlights just how dire the safety situation is. It is beyond disappointing that we have reached a stage where organisations are compelled to provide security for employees to travel to and from work.
Quoting a friend who came to my aid that night in Midi: "the station looked like a scene from a horror movie, a drugged man with a bloody face attacking people, pools of blood on the floor, sinister drunken characters looking for their next victim and screams coming from all corners of the station".
This is the capital of Europe, and that is the state of our main central stations in Brussels. What a welcome... can't we do better?
Below you can read my story.
I screamed for what felt like around a minute as I was cornered after being followed through the barriers to the metro by (what seemed to be) a drug crazed man with saliva dripping all over his face (he was not wearing a mask). Initially, people continued to go down escalators across the way and didn’t come to help me as he cornered me against the wall. I understand they may be scared to endanger themselves, but there are more ways you can help when you hear someone scream, than just carrying on with your day. Grab someone to get help, call the police. Do something, as long as it’s not nothing.
I could have been more seriously harmed and I’m lucky it was only some ripped clothing, a bruise and a cracked phone screen. I’m well aware it could have been more sinister and in a way, I’m actually lucky.
I persisted in screaming as loud and as long as I could hoping the attacker would stop touching me, or some police would arrive. It just didn’t seem to be happening and I was starting to run out of energy - that was the scariest moment. Eventually people realised the haunting noise of my screams was not a joke and something sinister was taking place. They started to arrive to help me and some men managed to retrieve my mobile from the attacker after a short chase down the escalator.
After the attack I went to the police, filed a report. The police were aware that the man was still in the station (just across the road) but they said they were too understaffed to send anyone over to pick him up. Quite alarming isn’t it? It seemed like fires needed putting out all over the station. Guards were run off their feet with criminality on different platforms. However, there didn’t seem to be one police officer in the station that night.
It was startling how violent the station was that night and multiple attacks took place.
To be blunt, it felt like a waste of time reporting it. It felt like that terrible man was just going to get away with it. I’m sure there’s CCTV, but I’m doubtful the man will be caught, which is a scary thought for me. These crimes may be viewed as petty by the government and police, but they are actually quite traumatising and can have a long-lasting effect on your day to day.
I want a crackdown on this type of criminality. I want it to be taken more seriously. By leaving these acts of violence unpunished, you are in fact enabling more violent behaviour. If criminal behaviour is not tackled in these stations, it will continue to worsen and multiply, as is becoming the case. This is unacceptable.
There’s some lessons I would encourage us all to learn or refresh on here:
1. If you hear a woman screaming, it’s most likely not a joke. Again - do something, as long as it’s not nothing. You could make a difference and save a life, stop a person from becoming a statistic or save them a darker trauma. If it ends up being you one day which you never think it will, you’ll rely on likeminded people to lean on in your moment of need, and believe me, you’re going to hope they turn up for you too.
2. Certain stations aren’t safe in Brussels after a certain time of night, until we see more action taken, girls in particular - please take an Uber or trusted taxi because there are not enough police around for us to feel protected. Sad but true. The point of this petition indeed, is to apply pressure to change the current situation.
3. Download a rape alarm app. Take a self defence class, do what you can within your control to be better equipped. I’m not sure to this point if screaming was the right thing to do. It could have angered my attacker and he could have ended up ‘quieting me’ so to put it, but in this case people eventually turned up because of my screams. It’s a gamble and you’re fight or flight will take over and your responses probably won’t fit with your plan of action anyway, but give it some thought for future, do what you can.
If more is not done, the list of victims like myself will grow longer. As it grows longer, we will inevitably grow louder. We don't feel safe commuting in this city and it's up to you to improve our safety. I urge for stronger police presence and stronger retaliation to crimes of this nature. I'm sorely disappointed that police were not able to help me more.
Thank you in advance for all of your support, I’m overwhelmed by the reaction so far. I will not stop until I feel more safe in this city and see change.
I want better from the city I call home. Please make my commute safer!
PS, If the lovely gentleman that stayed with me until help came reads this, or any of the men who intervened for that matter… I’m eternally grateful, thank you so much. I will forever appreciate your actions that night.