Survey reveals 'staggering' rates of street harassment: 83 per cent of women affected

At least 83 per cent of women have experienced street harassment, according to a survey of 1,000 Belgian women by the international initiative Stand Up Against Street Harassment. Respondents call for tougher penalties for perpetrators.

After a much-discussed documentary called Femme de la rue highlighted the problem of street harassment in Brussels in 2012, the government introduced some measures under the Sexism Act. But these measures are not enough, says documentary filmmaker Sofie Peeters, a spokesperson for the non-profit Blijf Van Mijn Lijf (Hands Off My Body).

Brussels imposes fines of 250 euros for street harassment, but these are mainly given to people who insult the police. In 2014, the Sexism Act made street harassment punishable in the rest of Belgium, but Blijf Van Mijn Lijf says is not certain this is being applied in practice.


In December last year, the Institute for the Equality of Women pointed out that the sexism law is not sufficiently known and applied by the police and the judiciary.

Because the police "are rarely confronted with this type of crime, they are reluctant to make an official report", the organisation said. "In addition, victims are often unaware that sexism is punishable and find it difficult to provide evidence."

"These staggering figures underline the urgent need for targeted interventions and concerted efforts to create a safer and more respectful public space for women"

While only half of victims go to the police, a fifth of women in Belgium and a third in Brussels say they have been followed in the street. As a result, nine out of 10 women avoid certain places or times, change their clothes or call someone. For those under 34, the figure rises to 97 per cent.

"These staggering figures underline the urgent need for targeted interventions and concerted efforts to create a safer and more respectful public space for women," said Peeters. "Everyone has the right to move freely and without fear."


Image shows a rally to mark International Women's Day in Brussels, 8 March 2023 © PHOTO VALERIA MONGELLI / AFP

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