A second rally against sexual violence was held in the Brussels neighbourhood of Ixelles on Thursday evening, and a sister-rally was held simultaneously in Ghent, Belgian media report.
The marches come on the heels of accusations against an employee of an Ixelles café, Waff, which is popular with students.
Women on social media shared testimonies of being drugged and sexually assaulted by the employee after visiting Waff, warning others to stay away. After those accounts were shared, at least a dozen more women came forward with similar allegations against the same employee, and allegations against other Brussels bars have emerged this week.
Waff reacted to the allegations by suspending the bartender, but reports then circulated on social media that the bartender had actually just been transferred to El Café, another bar in the same area.
Around 1,300 people participated in the first march, and the second march gathered about 500 people.
The events, organised by a feminist student organisation, aim to draw attention to what many see as a problem of especially large proportions in the Belgian capital.
People are calling on Brussels residents to boycott the two cafes in question, and one participant in the march told De Standaard that she’d never go to either again.
“The stories had been circulating for some time,” she said. “I used to go there regularly, but not any more. I don’t want to spend my money there, that would mean I agree with what happened.”
Herself a victim of sexual violence, she emphasised that it can be difficult to talk about and even harder to report: “The first time, I made a complaint, but I found it absurd that the police asked me what I was wearing and whether I was drunk. After that, I never filed a complaint again.”
Nine in ten girls in several of Belgium’s biggest cities have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces, but just six percent of cases are reported for reasons such as that.
In addition to the allegations about El Café and Le Waff, stories of being drugged and raped in other cafes surfaced early this week.
An Instagram account called “Balance ton bar” is compiling those allegations in an effort to spread awareness among women in regards to which places to avoid. There are already 40 allegations, as of Friday.
View this post on Instagram
Translation: The sexual assaults and rapes suffered at the cemetery of Ixelles are unfortunately far from being isolated incidents. If you have been a victim of similar events and you wish to speak out anonymously, do not hesitate to testify.
Their name is a nod to the popular song Balance Ton Quoi by Belgian artist Angèle, which addresses the issue of sexual harassment and violence.
The mayor of Ixelles said he’d like to see Waff and El Café shut down, but an ongoing investigation must conclude before any action can be taken.