Brussels police have launched a project in collaboration with the city’s public prosecutor's office to use plainclothes police officers to tackle the issue of sexual harassment on the streets.
Such acts, which include calling people names, scolding or harassing them, have been punishable by up to one month in prison or a fine of €50 to €1,000 since 2014, but with this project, the city hopes to further "increase the safety and quality of life in Brussels for girls and women."
"In certain places, almost 80% of women no longer dare come out for fear of harassment, hence this project. We want to guarantee women and girls that they can stand and go where they want,” said Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne.
In 2019, just 71 people reported experiencing sexual harassment in the entire country, as victims are often not aware they can file a complaint about such incidents, and because the identity of the perpetrator or the facts are difficult to prove.
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To help in the detecting and reporting of these incidents, police in plainclothes will now be able to observe intimidation on the street against themselves or against other citizens.
"We are starting weekly patrols at so-called hotspots. If the project runs well, we will talk to other cities to start something there too, because this is mainly a problem in big cities," Van Quickenborne said.
Following the petition of a woman calling for changes to the Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels after being attacked and experiencing a near-rape while walking home, the local police department decided to implement changes to counter assault, including more police patrols, better lighting, and lower bushes.
The woman learned that police were already aware “that there are monthly cases of rape and sexual assault in this area”, and decided to launch a petition, from which testimonies showed that while many women do not file official reports of such offenses with police, the attempted assault was indeed not an isolated incident.
The Brussels Times