A film school project by Sofie Peeters in Brussels, “Femme de la rue”, caused a stir at the start of the summer.
It revealed the sort of harrassment women have to endure daily in a typical big city street; cat-calls, whistles, jeers, and insults for their style of dress.
Faced with a rising tide of complaints, the authorities are taking action.
“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,” says Brussels Alderman Phillipe Close.
From September, a charge of “sexual intimidation” will carry a 250 euro fine. A parliamentary debate will follow, and the law could go nationwide. But some feel it does not go far enough.
“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?” said anti-street harrassment campaigner and founder of Hollaback Belgium Angelika Hild.
Hild thinks the federal government should study the roots of sexual harrassment in pornography, frustration and constant stimulation by adverts. France passed a similar law in July with fines going up to 45,000 euros.