An expat woman living in Brussels is calling for better protection of women in the municipality of Etterbeek after she was nearly raped near Cinquantenaire Park last Friday.
Speaking to The Brussels Times, Carla R. explained that she was walking home on Avenue de la Chevalerie, close to the Cinquantenaire Park, when a man grabbed her and tried to rape her, but she managed to escape.
"The next day, when I went to the police to report what happened, they told me I was very 'lucky' to have escaped, and that there are monthly cases of rape and sexual assault in this area," she said.
"This came as a huge surprise to me. I originally come from Barcelona, and I thought Brussels was a lot safer," Carla added. "I asked them why there was not more police surveillance or cameras if they knew this was a place where this happens a lot, but they said that there are not enough resources for that."
The incident, as well as how it was handled, has promoted Carla to start a petition to make the Brussels' municipality of Etterbeek allocate more resources for the protection of women, and make it a priority.
In the short term, the petition - which has reached over 5,000 signatures since it was launched - is calling on Etterbeek to increase police presence around the area, get more surveillance, better lighting to minimise dark spots, and clear signs to discourage (sexually) violent behaviour.
"Since I launched it, so many women have come forward with similar stories, but they did not always report it to the police," she said. "All the reactions I have been getting just show that this is not an isolated case. There must be something that can be done."
"More than anything, I am shocked by the inaction of the authorities," Carla added. "It is as if people just accept that this is the reality for women, but I refuse to accept that."
Additionally, she said that she is telling her story to show other victims that they are not alone and that they should not be ashamed to speak about what happened. "I feel very empowered by all the support I have been getting."
The Montgomery police zone (Etterbeek/Woluwe-Saint-Pierre/Woluwe-Saint-Lambert) confirmed to The Brussels Times that Carla made a report for sexual assault, and added that, last year, no cases of rape or attempted rape were reported to them.
In the Brussels-Capital Ixelles police zone, which also covers a large part of the Cinquantenaire park, one official report of rape was made last year, according to spokesperson Olivier Slosse.
"However, it is a known fact that many incidents are not reported to the police," he told The Brussels Times, referring to the opening of the Care Centre after Sexual Violence in Brussels in 2017, which has helped with that.
"Victims can go there to report an incident and/or get the necessary care and support," Slosse said. "They often do not feel comfortable in a police station or are even afraid of the police officer's reaction, but the centre provides a modified structure so we can avoid all these problems and people feel more comfortable."
"If the victim wants to report, the centre will call the police, and we can send someone who is specialised in questioning people who have experienced sexual violence," he explained, adding that the police have noticed that the willingness to report has increased in recent years.
The Brussels Times