'Last straw': VUB students to protest against inaction on sexual harassment

'Last straw': VUB students to protest against inaction on sexual harassment
Credit: Belga

In light of criticism of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) for its slow handing of a student's transgressive behaviour towards his peers, a group of students at the university are organising a protest on campus.

A young student – reportedly the son of a diplomat – locked up and assaulted several fellow students in his room, but the university waited more than six months after the first complaint was made against him to impose a sanction, which has been criticised by experts and students alike.

"Unfortunately, this case of sexual assault is one of many that the VUB had received over the years and has responded to with lenient retribution. This recent incident, however, was the last straw for us," the organiser of the demonstration wrote on the event's Facebook page.

The protest, calling for the VUB to "side with the victim," will take place on Tuesday 28 June in front of building M at 13:30.

'Not taking matters seriously'

The student organising the protest stated that the university "fails to take sexual assault seriously." This was confirmed by another student, who told The Brussels Times that it has a tendency to “make the victim feel as if they were either culpable or are just making things up and being dramatic.”

Just six months ago, another demonstration was organised following the VUB's delayed response to complaints about one of its professors showing transgressive behaviour towards his students. "In response, the VUB sent out apology email with a promise to work on this issue. Empty words as it turns out," the student organiser said.

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She added that it is time for the university to learn that it should take matters more seriously. "It’s a call to change this for good" and to show victims that "they are not alone, their experiences matter, and their voices are heard."

"People deserve to feel safe, especially in spaces where they study and live," she concluded.

University response

The university itself claims that the sanction imposed on the student, which has been deemed too lax, is a heavy sanction, adding that the "correct completion of the procedure" was followed.

Aside from announcing a new approach to the guidance of victims which will enter into force at the start of the next academic year, the university's rector candidate Jan Danckaert visited the student housing building where the young man had lived, according to one student.

"He was surprised to find out that such incidents could be happening in student dorms," one girl told The Brussels Times. "This doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, but it just shows the university's lack of knowledge about sexual assault happening on site."

Danckaert reportedly said that the student in question would no longer be allowed to take exams in the same room as other students after victims complained about seeing him in the examination room.

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