Brussels police introduced new all-women patrols in the city ahead of International Women's Day to combat sexual harassment on the streets. The new subgroup of law enforcement, dressed in plainclothes, will be patrolling the city looking out for cases of improper behaviour towards women and stopping it on the spot.
The Belgian capital's initiative was inspired by similar plainclothes patrols in another Belgian city – Liege. It is unclear so far, however, how effective the new approach to fighting sexual harassments is.
A European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report dating back to 2014 showed that nearly one in four Belgian women had suffered from either sexual harassment or some form of stalking (including online) in their lives. Nearly 25% of women in the country reported being "forced into sex" by a partner or a spouse.
The numbers are even higher for Brussels. A University of Ghent poll published in 2018 showed that 88% or nearly nine out of ten women in the country's capital had suffered from some form of sexual harassment. Half of those interviewed said they had also faced physical violence. Nearly 33% of women in Brussels interviewed by the University of Ghent said they were still struggling with the aftermath of either sexual harassment or sexual assault.
The capital's then-State Secretary for Equal Opportunities Bianca Debaets stated at the time that a special smartphone app called "HandsAway Brussels" for reporting sexual misconduct by victims or witnesses was in the making to address the issue. However, there has so far been no news about the app being released.