On Tuesday, February 15, hundreds of students from universities across Belgium protested the spike in sexual violence in universities. Students along with groups such as Comac and the March 8 Collective participated in protest demonstrations in universities in Brussels, Louvain La Neuve, Bergen, Gent, Leuven, and other places. The protesters demanded the university authorities to curb sexual harassment on campuses and ensure that perpetrators are punished and victims heard. The Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA), RedFox movement, and the feminist group Marianne extended solidarity and support to the protesting students.
According to reports, students of various universities across Belgium including the University of Gent, Free University of Brussels (VUB) and Catholic University (KU) have filed numerous complaints of sexual harassment with the authorities. There have been accusations that certain professors abuse their position of power but are not checked or removed. Students have also complained that the procedures for reporting and dealing with complaints are slow and inadequate and victims often do not even dare to report.
Regarding the spike in sexual harassment cases in Belgian universities, PTB/PVDA legislator Lise Vandecasteele stated in the Flemish parliament, “it’s not just about some complaints that have been badly addressed. It’s about a structural issue. And there is momentum today to tackle those problems effectively.”
Comac group launched an initiative called ‘break the silence’ where students can secretly share their complaints and testimonies about the harassment they face in universities. “We’re tired of it. Tired of being afraid. Sexual violence mainly affects female students. In Belgium, one in five students was already a victim of this type of aggression. Enough is enough. We are no longer going to remain silent. We will no longer allow impunity to prevail. It’s time to break the silence and send a clear message through these stories: we believe you!” said Comac.
While addressing the mobilization in Leuven, Comac’s Sander Claessens demanded an independent external hotline for such behavior, a support center for victims, and a prevention campaign against sexual violence at every university and college.
The Mach 8 Collective stated, “we are advocating for the introduction of a low-threshold independent hotline. The person responsible for such a hotline should follow compulsory training on protocols. For these protocols, the opinion of women’s organizations or experts should be asked.”