Secretary of State Leroy wants online sexism to be tried in criminal court

The Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, Marie-Colline Leroy (Ecolo), wants online sexism to be tried in the criminal court. Currently, it is not prosecuted because it is considered a press offence and, therefore, has to endure a cumbersome procedure via the assize court. A constitutional amendment is needed to change this.

Leroy's insistence is in response to a study by the Demos Knowledge Centre on the Sexism Act, which has been in place since 2014 and aims to combat sexism in public spaces. The law was introduced after Sofie Peeters' high-profile report Femme de la Rue.

The report concludes that the law effectively secures convictions, but its knowledge and scope are too limited. The study makes several recommendations. Some do not require a change in the law, such as better lighting on the streets and at train stations, awareness campaigns and faster processing of criminal cases. Others require legislative change, including introducing one or more laws prohibiting harassment in public places.

"The female voice is stifled."

"Sexism, both on and offline, silences too many women," says Leroy. "There are women who disconnect from social media platforms because they no longer want to endure the many, often sexist, insults. Some women are afraid to go out alone at night for fear of being ridiculed, followed or sometimes even touched, and female politicians are retiring for fear of their well-being and that of their family and friends. So the female voice in the social debate is still too much stifled".

A fundamental problem is that the law does not adequately punish written sexist messages - including online. Although cyber violence is widespread, hate messages spread online remain unpunished. "By 2020, it is estimated that one in two young women will have experienced gender-based cyber violence. In general, women are more likely to experience cyber violence based on sex or gender, especially sexual forms of cyber violence," says Leroy.

Leroy wants Parliament to declare Article 150 of the Constitution open to revision so that online sexist remarks can be prosecuted in a criminal court. This would require a two-thirds majority.


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