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Belgian capital to implement fines for sexual intimidation in September

posted 24 Aug 2012, 10:33 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 24 Aug 2012, 10:34 ]

Brussels to implement fines for sexual intimidation in September to counter increasing number of complaints.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (REUTERS) - A priori, walking through the streets of Brussels might not seem much a challenge. But, as the documentary of a young student, Sofie Peeters, recently suggested, it might not be the case if you're a woman.

As her film "Femme de la Rue" (Woman in the Street) showed, going for a stroll in a dress through the streets of the Belgian capital could lead to receiving insults, sexist remarks and indecent proposals, especially when going across some of the most impoverished districts of Europe's capital city.

An alderman of the City of Brussels, Phillippe Close, said that he has received an increasing number of complaints in the past few years but that cases of sexual intimidation against women hardly led to any formal lawsuits. Along with Brussels mayor, and with the October 14 provincial and municipal elections approaching, he decided that time had come for the city to take over the matter directly.

"If education does not work, our job is also to show that the public power is here, that the public authority is here. At some point, those who will not understand through education and campaigns will be sanctioned with fines," Close said.

Starting from september, anyone in Brussels found guilty of sexual intimidation may receive a fine of up to 250 euros. The municipal decree was decided last spring, but the media exposure that the student's work offered to the issue led Belgium's Interior minister Joelle Milquet to announce a parliamentary debate on the matter in September. This may lead to the vote of a nation-wide law.

But the co-founder of anti-street harassment movement Hollaback Belgium, Angelika Hild, said she doubted whether fines are the right instrument to tackle the problem.

"We think just giving fines out to people is not enough. First of all, it's not very clear what they mean. It's not very clear when they want to give fines. Is it just sexist remarks or is it from men to women? Or is it also for example also homophobic remarks, which also happen a lot?," Hild said.

The activist said she thought Belgium's federal government should conduct a studies on the roots of sexual harassment, such as pornography, frustration and constant stimulation by advertisement. Hild also said she wanted a nation-wide campaign targeting both men and women to explain what sexual intimidation is. The activist said that the young age of stalkers seem to indicate that more needs to done in terms of education.

On one of Brussels' most popular commercial street, sisters Barbara and Esther Debande welcomed to city's involvement in tackling sexual intimidation.

"It is normal to sanction them, because we are almost afraid to go out in the street and get harassed, so that's it," Barbara Debande said.

A tourist from the Netherlands, Aimee Bosgra shared this view.

"I think it's a good idea because it's also dangerous and the police should pay more attention to this so that such things happen less frequently and that it can stop," Bosgra said.

In Neighbouring France, a law was voted last July to criminalize sexual harassment with fines going up to 45,000 euros.

Last May, the London-based End Violence Against Women Coalition released the results of a poll showing that over 40% of women aged 18-34 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in the British capital's public spaces in the last year.