At the start of 2021, numerous accounts of gender-based and sexual violence emerged in several Belgian high schools and universities, with the hashtags #BalanceTonFolklore and #FolkloreComplice.
The students denounce more specifically the abuses in student circles, harassment on campuses and rapes coming home from parties. The Council of Francophone Women of Belgium (CFFB) notice that “many reactions are hostile or inappropriate; […] posters torn off, dissociation from the movement, launch of an awareness campaign in awkward and inappropriate terms“.
Amnesty figures drive home the point: 33% of young people think that violence against women is not necessarily a crime; 1 in 2 men believe that a victim may be partly responsible for their assault; 91% of young people aged 12 to 21 who have had a romantic relationship have already been victims of acts of violence between partners. “Academia is a microcosm and even more of a hoax; there is no reason why they should be spared the same power struggles and dysfunctions experienced by the rest of society“, underlines the CFFB.
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Faced with this mobilization, the ULB has launched for this new academic year a consent education campaign, entitled “If it’s not yes, it’s no”. “Without real consent, there is no celebration. Our campuses must be safe places“, declared the rector of ULB, Annemie Schaus, in a press release. More generally, a plan to fight against sexual and gender-based violence has been put in place. Beyond the awareness campaign, it includes the launch , at the start of the school year, training for committee members and committees of recognized circles, representatives of student associations and ULB security guards on consent.In the long term, the objective is to provide this training to the entire student population. The center for accompaniment and support in the risks of harassment towards students, “Cash-e”, set up in September 2020, will also be reinforced by three people. This center provides confidential assistance to those confronted with in situations of harassment (moral or sexual), incivility, intimidation or psychological pressure.The aim is also for the center to deal with reports of sexual violence and to work on a treatment protocol of the alleged perpetrators.
Our campuses must be safe places
UCL also reacted with a second campaign “Zero tolerance for harassment and sexual assault“, launched in September 2021. UCLouvain announces that it is strengthening its unit to fight harassment and sexual violence, the organization of online training, accessible to all students and staff, the organization of a conference which will bring together experts and political figures in 2022 to raise awareness and involve higher education establishments. The university is still talking about an application, “App’Elles”, which will also be shortly accessible to allow anyone to alert and call for help from the competent authorities in the event of a situation of insecurity or danger, as well as the creation of native podcasts, The wolves, who will talk about sexual violence in higher education.
Politicization of the issue
And that’s not all. Two young MPs from the Wallonia-Brussels Federation also took up this issue: Rodrigue Demeuse (Ecolo) and Margaux De Ré (Ecolo) tabled in Parliament, along with other members of the majority, a draft resolution to combat bullying in higher and university education. “We started to be interested in this question at the beginning of the legislature with the two sensibilities and hats which are ours, for Rodrigue higher education and for me the rights of women“, summarizes Margaux De Ré.
“At that time, the omerta was starting to rise in art schools with the Instagram page Pay your role which gives la word to the victims of abusive teachers. Then the BalanceTonFolklore movement started. There was also the Grenada article on bullying of a professor at a university, an article that put words into the power relations within higher education institutions. All this made it possible to understand the stake of the politicization of this question. From that, we started to meet actresses and actors in the field. We realized that sexual or moral harassment covered a lot of very different situations and that sometimes the responsibilities of those who had to act were not clear: when it was harassment on campus, universities were agreed to act, it was more complex when it took place during times of windfall off campus or, for example, when a thesis director receives a student at her private home“she continues.
►►► To read: Harassment at university: “I keep the consequences”
“We notice that cviolence, especially when it comes teachers, can make you miss your year, and will impact your whole life, in terms of psychological consequences but also because your teachers are sometimes your future employers“, explains Rodrigue Demeuse.”This is in addition to others fears of students, who will not dare to denounce the facts for fear of reprisals on their professional life. We have received testimonies to this effect. We note that the system as it is today does not sufficiently protect students.“
We realized that sexual or moral harassment covered a lot of very different situations
A finding also made by Unia, the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities, which published a report in March 2021, entitled “Strengthening the legal framework to combat harassment in higher education in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation”. In May 2021, it is the turn of ARES, the Academy of Research and Higher Education, to publish its control measures against violence and harassment in higher education. “For the moment, some establishments have implemented measures, others have not, some anti-harassment measures remain unknown. They are not compulsory. Students are therefore not treated in the same way depending on the institution in which they study. The students told us their concern about a close link between the system put in place and the establishment, that there is no independence and that in the end the person who denounces is penalized, if the harasser teacher learns it for example. How to trust?“, explains Rodrigue Demeuse.
Lack of numbers
The question arose of the lack of figures on sexual and moral harassment in high schools and universities. There are figures abroad: According to studies in Australia and the United States, 25% of female college students have experienced gender-based violence and 20% of female students have experienced sexual harassment. The people most affected are women (female students are twice as affected as men and are three times more likely to be assaulted for sexual reasons) and LGBTQIA + people (who are 45% to report harassment problems ). The Australian study shows that only 6% of victims have lodged a complaint. “For us, this is the zero point of the resolution: you need a quantitative and qualitative studyive in Belgium on this subject “, observes Margaux De Ré.
In addition to launching a study to collect figures, the project tabled in Parliament provides several avenues, in particular facilitating the filing of reports in each establishment and outside, by requiring each higher education establishment to create, when is not already done, a referral system and offer an external remedy; adopt a specific legal framework to better protect students; inform and educate institutions, staff and students about harassment. The vote in Parliament will take place on October 13.