Student banned from Brussels university after 15 assault complaints

Student banned from Brussels university after 15 assault complaints
The campus of the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Credit: Belga

A 21-year-old foreign student has been banned from the Flemish-language university VUB in Brussels following 15 complaints of both sexual assault and violence. He is only allowed on campus to sit his exams.

In a statement, the VUB confirmed that various students attending the university were victims of transgressive behaviour by another student, and announced that, following referral to the disciplinary committee, it was decided that he "was no longer allowed to participate in all educational activities and all student facilities and that he was not allowed to show up on the VUB campuses, except for the exams."

Although the young man – reportedly the son of a diplomat – locked up and assaulted several fellow students in his room, more than six months passed between the first complaint and the final sanction, one student told The Brussels Times.

She added that, because the VUB refused to take action, victims of the person in question, as well as of other people who have committed similar acts of violence, continue to be confronted with the people who had hurt them on campus.

Many people who tried to speak out against his behaviour, herself included, were reportedly made to feel like outsiders by other students and were bullied for speaking out, she said.

Gathering evidence

A second-year student was the first to contact the VUB hotline in October 2021 because a friend of hers had been assaulted on campus. The international student left both the university and the country, according to De Morgen.

As the accused student reportedly had a reputation on campus for such behaviour, the second-year student found out that her friend was not the only victim. In November, she took to VUB with four accusations against the foreign diplomat’s son, but it was not enough: “They wanted more information. They needed details. Who, what, where and when.”

She then took matters into her own hands and gathered 15 reports with written testimonies, audio recordings, and text messages. Ten students filed a complaint by name, five wished to remain anonymous.

One student at the VUB told The Brussels Times that these complaints were just the tip of the iceberg and that at least 20 girls reportedly were victims of his behaviour. She explained that the university has been aware of various claims in the past, and failed to act appropriately.

She added that he lived in student housing, and was no longer allowed to be in a room with fewer than three people at a time as a result of the complaints against him, but that he was still allowed on campus.

So far, none of the victims has gone to the police, out of fear of not being believed, losing their visa or because they were afraid of the student because of his father's position.

Vulnerable victims

According to one roommate, the young man "only had one goal: to get someone into his student room as quickly as possible to indulge his lusts."

During the lockdown, he made use of vulnerable students, many of whom did not have a social safety net at the time. “He took advantage of that, played the sympathetic guy and invited many people to his room,” the roommate said.

Related News

This matches one of his victims’ stories, as she said she was happy to have someone to talk to. But once in his room, he closed the door, pushed her against the wall and started kissing her. He also reached into her pants. The student said several times that she did not want to, "but he kept groping me."

The diplomat’s son is known on campus for being sociable and drinking a lot, and a fellow student said he would deliberately get people drunk, or play down his behaviour, blaming it on excessive drinking. The student in question was also accused of humiliating and racist remarks as well as violence.

Next steps

The measures against the young man will expire on 20 May 2023, unless he does not comply with the disciplinary sanction imposed, in which case he will be excluded from the university for a period of three years, according to the VUB's statement.

The VUB said in a statement to The Brussels Times that the university has been working on a renewed procedure and functioning of the contact point, and especially on the guidance of the victims during this process since the start of this academic year to improve its handling of such incidents.

"The VUB is very aware that the process is emotionally very heavy and frustrating for the victims," the university's spokesperson said. For many victims, this punishment was deemed too light, yet the university has said it was a "heavy sanction."

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.