Belgian Bureaucracy: Etterbeek can't make Cinquantenaire safer after attempted rape

Belgian Bureaucracy: Etterbeek can't make Cinquantenaire safer after attempted rape
Credit: Belga

Following the call for better lighting in Cinquantenaire Park by a woman who was recently nearly raped in the area, the municipality of Etterbeek has explained that the park's cultural heritage status prevents them from making any structural changes to make it safer.

Speaking to The Brussels Times, Etterbeek mayor Vincent De Wolf explained that he or his municipality cannot make changes to the park area, as it is classified as a cultural heritage site, which is managed by the Regional government.

As a monument, the park is also the property of the Belgian State, "meaning that our municipality cannot make any decisions about improving or increasing the lighting in the Cinquantenaire Park," De Wolf said.

The woman in question, Carla R., escaped an attempted rape while she was walking home near the park after dark, and started a petition calling for better protection of women in Etterbeek, through more police presence and better lighting, among other things.

"I want to make it very clear that what Carla is saying about there not being enough lighting is absolutely right," he said, adding that he is writing two official letters to the competent authorities to make it clear that this has to change.

"I will write to constructor Beliris, as well as to the administration managing the territory, to ask for more streetlights in and around the park," De Wolf said. "Unfortunately, I cannot decide that on my own."

The authorities will investigate whether or not it is possible to make the changes. "They have to get permission from the Region, which is responsible for monuments, to install the right kind of lighting. It cannot be too modern, as the site's character and look have to be maintained."

Additionally, responding to comments that the municipality does not have sufficient resources to increase police presence in the area, De Wolf said that this was "absolutely not true."

"We have enough resources to be able to protect people and combat sexual violence on our territory," he said.

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Not only in Cinquantenaire, but also other parks, police officers patrol on foot, by bicycle, on horseback and dogs because of an agreement between Etterbeek and the federal police, according to De Wolf.

"At night, these patrols, specifically those with police dogs, check the park too," he said. "However, they make rounds, so they are not present every minute, but it still increases safety for the people in the area."

Additionally, De Wolf called on everyone who has had a similar experience to report it to the police. "If they don't, we do not know what is happening, and we cannot adjust our security accordingly," he said.

He is aware that many victims are afraid to go to the police, but the Care Centre after Sexual Violence that opened in Brussels in 2017 helped with that. Additionally, Etterbeek has also hired many district officers - many of them women - with a focus on preventing or helping with violence against women, who have all had specific training.

"What happened to Carla is dramatic, and it should not happen again. For our police forces, it is a priority to prevent violence against women," De Wolf said. "Every case is one too many."

Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston

The Brussels Times

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