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Brussels citizens stand together against sexual harassment and transgressive behavior

(Vrt, 2021).

The streets and nightclubs of Brussels have been confronted with problems of sexual violence and transgressive behavior for years. Citizens of Brussels want to feel safe again in their own city and are taking the matter into their own hands. Several citizen collectives have emerged on social media platforms. These initiatives show the solidarity and emancipation among the Brussels women and men. After several testimonies circulated on social media about rapes in the Brussels student neighborhood of Ixelles in October 2021, new protest movements emerged. Brussels is all too often associated with such issues that terrorize the city. Protest movements are an example of togetherness and emancipation among the inhabitants of Brussels. Brussels is more than its problems, Brussels is solidarity and empowerment.

We don't want to be afraid anymore

In October 2021, the suspected rapes of different women shocked not only Brussels, but all of Belgium. In the Brussels student neighborhood of Ixelles, the doors of two cafes were closed following a series of rapes that took place here. This was the last straw. The number of sexual assault cases handled by the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office had already doubled in the last three years and several petitions had been launched because of sexual harassment and violence in the streets of our capital. Citizens themselves decided to get involved in the fight against transgressive behavior. The Union Feministe Intersectionnelle Autogérée, or UFIA, organized the boycott 'nightlife blackout' to put pressure on pub owners and the government of Brussels. Not only women but also men decided to take the streets under the motto "Nous sommes fortes, nous sommes fières, et féministes et radicales et en colère" (we are strong, proud, feminist, radical and furious). With the series of demonstrations, the demonstrators want not only to show their support for the victims, but also to take back control of the streets. They also demand concrete actions from the government and institutions involved to put an end to transgressive behavior. The various demonstrations and citizens' initiatives demonstrate the solidarity among citizens and show the strength of Brussels and its inhabitants.

The UFIA was founded by les Sous Entendues, art space 'That's what x said' and citizens' collective Balance ton bar. #Balancetonbar was founded by Maïté Peeters as a protest movement following the rapes at El Café and Café Waff in October 2021. Balance ton bar or "snitch your bar" offers a platform for victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their stories anonymously. These stories are then posted on Balancetonbar's Instagram page. All 72 horror events that appeared on the page happened in and around city of Brussels. Balance ton bar wants to expose the problem, create solidarity and form one front against transgressive behavior. Balance ton bar received a lot of media attention and appeared in Le Soir, on RTBF and on Bruzz. With more than 30 thousand followers, Balance ton bar quickly grew into a powerful citizens' collective. Previously, similar initiatives were founded. #Balancetonwilly was founded by a sociology student from Brussels, who wants to encourage victims of sexual violence and transgressive behavior to share their testimonies and file a complaint with the police. With #Balancetonwilly, victims can share stories on Twitter. The hashtag was referenced in hundreds of testimonies. The Instagram page of féminismebxl also brings to light stories of victims of transgressive behavior. After countless testimonies, a torchlight procession was organized under the title 'violence sexuelles, il est temps de nous croire' .

Finally we are believed

Numerous small-scale civic initiatives are emerging and the power of social media is undeniable. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook provide a voice for victims and initiators and contribute to mobilization online and on the streets. Social media platforms offer space to brainstorm possible actions. Students at ULB brainstormed on their Facebook page about possible 'safe cafes'. These 'safe cafes' would create a woman-friendly environment and establish a collective sense of responsibility where everyone contributes to a woman-friendly environment. The topics of sexual violence and transgressive behavior have become political themes that are taken seriously and give rise to concrete action. City of Brussels developed stickers in three languages after the scandals at El café and Café Waff, which are distributed to raise awareness. Later in 2022, a major awareness campaign will take place, founded by the City of Brussels. In addition, more budget will be made available to organizations dedicated to the prevention and support of transgressive behavior and more budget will be made available for victim assistance. Finally, the City of Brussels launched an action plan with 77 measures designed to make women feel safe during nightlife, in education and on the streets. The content and implementation of these initiatives will be discussed in detail in a subsequent article "How has the Brussels action plan 'not without my consent' been translated into practice". These actions show the strength of Brussels' togetherness and the emancipation of its inhabitants.

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