Brussels' Offensive Language Fines Highlight Widespread Sexual Harrassment

 @crvillarreal
on September 04 2012 4:49 PM

City officials in Belgium's capital Brussels recently announced a set of new fines that target use of offensive language in public.

"Any form of insult is from now on punishable, whether it be racist, homophobic or otherwise," Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans' spokesperson quoted him as saying.

Authorities plan to impose fines of between 75 and 250 euros for using offensive language in public, including sexual harassment, in an attempt to not only deter potential offenders, but to encourage law enforcement to crack down on such behavior.

The mayor's spokesman said the courts had previously been too busy to take on such cases, which resulted in police having "little incentive to take any action over such incidents," the Daily Telegraph reported.

Sexual harassment, in particular, has become a major topic of debate in Brussels. The issue was recently highlighted by student filmmaker Sofie Peeters, who documented interactions between herself and various men on the street using a hidden camera.

In her documentary film, "Femme de la Rue," Peeters is the target of cat-calling, unsolicited advances and misogynistic defamations -- interactions which she said she experiences eight to 10 times a day.

"The first question women ask is: 'Is it me? Is it something I have done, is it my clothes?' But when I made this film I saw it wasn't just me, lots of women have this problem," Peeters told Belgian TV.

The Belgian law is somewhat reminiscent of a measure passed by the council of a small town in Massachusetts earlier this summer.

In Middleborough, Massachusetts, near Boston, curing in public will net the offender a $20 fine.

"I'm really happy about it," Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote, according to Associated Press.

"I'm sure there's going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary. [Teenagers] sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate."

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