Amid backlash, Brussels police chief promises to do better for sexual assault victims

Amid backlash, Brussels police chief promises to do better for sexual assault victims
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After multiple rallies against sexual violence took place in Brussels last week, with victims offering testimony of poor treatment from police when attempting to report the crime, the chief of police for the Brussels South police zone says they want to do better.

They plan to train specialized officers who will handle such cases, according to VRT, after dozens of women speaking out against sexual violence said they encountered disbelief and skepticism when reporting that they were raped or assaulted.

Many victims said they were asked questions about what clothing they were wearing at the time they were attacked and whether or not they had been intoxicated, with the insinuation that depending on the answer, they were partly to blame for being assaulted.

“Our police officers do not have the superpowers to do everything,” said Chief of police Jurgen De Landsheer of police zone Brussels South.

“Some of them are barely twenty years old. They are faced with a victim and do not know what to do and ask the wrong questions.”

Belgium’s Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) has also promised in the House of Representatives on Thursday to remove the obstacles to file a complaint after sexual violence.

Women have long been pointing out the difficulties of doing so, which contributes to a lack of overall reporting in Belgium: while nine in ten girls in several of the country’s biggest cities have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces, just six percent of cases are reported.

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An instagram page called “Balance ton bar” says it has been overwhelmed with victim testimonies when it comes to sexual violence in Brussels’ bars, specifically.

The page was formed following the rallies against sexual violence that began after multiple accusations surfaced on social media against an employee at Waff, an Ixelles café.

Waff reacted to the allegations by suspending the employee, but reports then circulated on social media that he had actually just been transferred to El Café, another bar in the same area.

Maïté Meeus, who started the Balance Ton Bar collective, said that the police response to sexual assault reports from victims not only discourages reporting, but can add additional trauma.

“Some victims feel they are being laughed at and not listened to. This often causes a second trauma, in addition to the first trauma caused by sexual violence,” Meeus told Bruzz, advocating for a broader approach.

“We have to tackle this together. Politicians, police, activists and restaurant owners.”

She isn’t impressed by the addition of a specially trained police unit to tackle something that really shouldn’t have been a difficult issue for ordinary officers in the first place.

“I think there are so many cases of sexual and other violence against women that a specialisation within the police force is not interesting. To me, it’s a basic skill to be able to listen to a victim in an appropriate way. This is about human competences that every cop should have.”

Meeus wants the first step to involve consultation with various partners from the nightlife scene, where sexual assault is rampant per victim testimony.

Starting next week, Balance ton Bar will sit down with various feminist collectives from Brussels to brainstorm a series of specific measures.

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