The following story about a rape in the South Station of Brussels was translated on the Gates of Vienna blog from La Dernière Heure. I bring here another translation from a Dutch newspaper, together with several related items about the situation of women in the area.
A 21 year old woman was pushed against an ATM machine in the Brussels South station by two young men and raped last week. According to the victim, at least three travelers passed by, but nobody tried to help her.
Around 9pm Lola arrived at the South station in a train from Waterloo. She walked over to an ATM when suddenly tow you men asked her in a threatening tone why she didn't wear a headscarf as she should.
"You must know: my daughter has blond hair and blue eyes, that is wholly not a North-African appearance. It was the way of those two men simply to intimidate her, so that it would be easier for them to then abuse her," says Marc, Lola's father.
And that is what sadly occurred. One of the men took out a knife and pushed the blade against the throat. Then he pushed the young woman against the wall and raped her while his friend looked on and watched that nobody would dare interfere.
"Nobody had the courage to save my daughter out of the clutches of the duo," continued father Marc with rage. "According to Lola nonetheless certainly three men passed by, but nobody even got ready to stop. At 9pm at this time of year it's still far from dark and the South Station is is certainly not yet abandoned. Why did everybody leave my daughter to her fate?"
The brutal assault on his daughter reminds Marc as well of the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck, the youth who was stabbed to death in the Brussels Central Station in order to steal his MP3 player. "That also happened while travelers passed by. Also then nobody thought it necessary to help the victim. I think it's revolting. And I point an accusing finger at the Belgian government, who does nothing to prevent such dramas. After the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck everybody promised that the number of security cameras in public buildings, such as train stations, would be quickly multiplied. Once more it appears to be empty promises. If there would have been cameras in the South Station, than the unmasked rapists of my daughter would have been identifiably recorded on film. But because it stayed only words, those men could calmly leave the station after their outrage."
The victim was taken to hospital and had lodged a complaint. The police had taken her clothes and had done everything to record as much DNA and other evidence as possible against the offenders. However, so far there's no trace of the rapists.
The following is from 2005, but I thought it worth translating, especially as it discusses the situation of women in the same neighborhood. The articles are from the site of Brigitte Grouwels, a local politician in Brussels, and appeared originally in Het Laatste Nieuws and in De Volkskrant.
In a number of neighborhoods in Brussels there are less and less women on the street. Muslim girls are troubled if they don't wear a headscarf. Ethnic Belgian women are jeered at and called whores if they dare show a piece of naked belly. "An atmosphere of intolerance prevails. Ethnic Belgian women tel me that they wear a scarf because then they aren't bothered any more."
State Secretary Brigitte Grouwels says that that's an unacceptable situation. The women of Brussels will not tolerate it any more.
Safety on the street is one of the themes of the "women build Brussels" (Vrouwen bouwen aan Brussel) that Grouwels organized in 2005. The congress was about the participation of women in social life in the capital, but the fact the women in various neighborhoods can't be themselves any more, is very important to Grouwels.
Q: Have you yourself been troubled?
A: Yes, and my daughter repeatedly, just as her friends. Those are young women dressed according to fashion, with small blouses and even a bit of naked belly. Immigrant girls are accosted if they don't wear a headscarf, but also simply because they walk in the street, or if they dare laugh with each other. Take the Zuidlaan across from the South Station. In the past it was a completely mixed neighborhood, where many Belgians had a store. Now it's a neighborhood where immigrant shops dominate, which are controlled by a specific type of men. They look from the cafes at everybody who passes by and intimidate women. Gradually they disappear from the street scene. An atmosphere of intolerance prevails. Women can't dress like they would want. Well, we are fed up of being called a whore on the street and jeered at because we are not dressed according to the notions of certain men. It is discourteous and disrespectful behavior towards women.
Q: Who do those men say?
A: Remarks like you don't belong here, how do you walk dressed, you're a whore. It's not only along the Zuidlaan but there it's beginning to be noticeable that there are less and less women on the street. It happens just as well in Sint-Joost, in Molenbeek, in Schaarbeek, when they're shopping on the Louizalaan and very frequently on the tram. Rspect is important in the culture of those men. Well, we demand respect for all women. It is a form of verbal abuse that is very disturbing. There are women who tell me if we put a cloth on our head, we're not accosted any more. Well, that is a step too far.
Q: It's the Belgians who must adapt to the immigrants?
A: So it is yes. Women must be able to walk about safely night and day. We haven't fought 50 years for our liberation in order to be set back in time now. We don't want that in any neighborhood in Brussels.
Q: Who are those men?
A: It's particularly Moroccan youth, who think they have a right to impose their standards on girls. It also happen by the Turks, particularly in their community, but it's just as unacceptable. They must also have the right to decide how they want to dress. If we want to show our naked bellies, those men have nothing to do with it.
Q: Were there no great rights in Brussels?
A: That is correct. But we must stay very alert. In the neighborhoods in France where the serious riots took place, you don't see any more women on the street. The men think that they are the rulers in the street. Where we see that happening we must take action. It's a sign that a neighborhood is going the wrong way, and there are neighborhoods that are going the wrong way in Brussels, in Molenbeek, Sint Joost, Kregem, Schaarbeek.
Q: Can you change something there with a congress?
A: Not immediately, but if we make it completely clear, all women together, that we don't accept that and want respect, we'll already be a step ahead. There are many immigrant women signed up. We come together to recognized our problems and to do something about it."
Q: You're a minister, you must do something more about it?
A: The final goal is an action plan for equal opportunities supported by women's organizations. In Sint Joost the police promised that they will send out street educators who would speak to the boys about their behavior. We will support immigrant women's groups, so that they can emancipate themselves. There I want to put in a lot of resources.
"Each day I get curses hurled at me a few times," Congolese Ema (25), sitting at a bench next to the South Station, confirm Grouwels' picture. "The offenders are mostly North Africans. Sometimes they say whore (pute) in your face, but often they curse you in Arabic, so that you don't understand it".
"I know the problem well, a colleague of mine has even got hit one time," says Flemish Nathalie (31), "but much of the fear is in your head. I myself had bought an apartment in Sint-Joost-ten-Node (a municipality to the north of Brussels central, with a large immigrant population) and that is also known as a problematic neighborhood. But if you show that you know the way there, it goes best. In any case I don't let it hold me back from going about in the evenings".
Maaike (24), who had lived with her friend for a year in the area of the South Station, did feel restricted. "When I walked to my school in Anderlecht, I was continuously accosted on the way by groups of men on the street. By itself it was harmless, but after a month I've had it with it so much that for the rest of the year I took a bus."
One time during the year she wore a skirt, and that was also the last time. "I wasn't yet on the street and I was already called a whore. while it was quite a modest skirt, till even under the knees." In the end the disapproving glances and remarks annoyed Maaike and her friend so much that they decided to move.
Is Brussels really the Bronx of Europe, or are the most notorious neighborhoods of the Belgian capital not worse off than the Schilderwijk in the Hague or Zuidoost in Amsterdam? That is hard to judge, because there is no concrete data about the number of women who feel threatened or intimidated. "Women who are verbally abused, can go to the police with their story, but they don't keep data on it," says Dirk De Backer, Brigitte Grouwels' spokesperson. Moreover, he adds, people don't complain so quickly about a few curses from a men on the street.
In the somewhat dingy area about the Annessens metro stop, on the Anderlecht-Brussels border, women without a headscarf seem to be in the minority. On her way down to the underground, Zoubida (41), herself a Moroccan, wants to say something about the behavior of some of the townspeople, on condition that her full name will not be published. "I've never been truly driven into a tight spot, but I avoid certain neighborhoods, and then too as much as possible," she says while looking about nervously. "Molenbeek, Schaarbeek, and also our neighborhood. I take the metro, come here to the hospital and go immediately back home again." Zoubida is a practicing Muslim, but doesn't wear a headscarf on her colored blond hair. "Because my employee doesn't support it, but also and especially because I don't think it's necessary. I'm a Muslim in my heart, raise my children on Muslim values, and that is the most important, I think. But some Moroccan Belgians think differently about it," she sighs.
Zoubida also advices to take the metro quickly, since staying around and asking questions will cause problems. "Or did you bring somebody to protect you?"
Cousins Sabria and Nisrine, both 17, worry less. Arm in arm the girl go to catch up with the last exams before Christmas in their Dutch school. Their darker curls dance unhampered by a veil on their shoulders, both have on tight jeans and a black jacket. "Boys on the street have constant criticism if you don't cover your hair," confirms Nisrine. "As if girls with a headscarf are so much more respectable," says her cousin with indignation. "Because we don't wear it, they think that everything is allowed. They ask for your telephone number,or begin to pick on you just like that. If you than show that you don't want it, they turn around like a leaf on the treat and suddenly you're a slut." Is there a neighborhood that the girls avoid? "Zwarte Vijvers" (a neighborhood in Molenbeek), they say in chorus. "There you're not safe as a woman late at night".
Somewhat further up the Anspachlaan, next to a branch of the Attijariwafa bank which serves Moroccans aboard, is Naima (18), who says she's never been bothered. Does that have to do with the black headscarf on her hair? "Not at all." Some men love short skirts, others not at all. In any case you can't lump together all Moroccan men.
Four female Brussels parliament members blame Brigitte Grouwels for that. Without being acquainted with the problems they think that the State Secretary stigmatizes the whole Moroccan neighborhood and stimulates the feeling of insecurity. Grouwels emphasizes that she's never said that all men or boys in certain neighborhoods acts with disrespect. "I simply want to make the problem discussable." 'Silence kills!'.
The State Secretary had meanwhile announced in the Brussels parliament a scientific study of violence and intimidation against women in the capital. Additionally there will be a report center where women can come with their complaints of verbal aggression.
Sources: Nieuwsblad, Grouwels 1, 2 (Dutch)