15,000 march against sexual violence in Antwerp


Following the recent murder of Julie Van Espen, a silent march against sexual violence drew twice as many people as expected to the streets of the port city

‘We must devote ourselves to prevention’

More than 15,000 people – twice the expected number – joined the silent march in Antwerp yesterday to protest against sexual violence. The march was held a week after the body of local woman Julie Van Espen was found in the Albert canal.

Van Espen was attacked on the evening of 4 May near the Theunis bridge in the Merksem district of Antwerp. The 23-year-old student was biking into Antwerp from her home in Schilde.

Steve Bakelmans, 39, was soon arrested and confessed to the murder. A media uproar followed when it was discovered that Bakelmans had been convicted of rape in 2017 and was released on his own recognizance after he appealed. Two years later, he was still awaiting his appeal hearing. Bakelmans had already served four years for rape from 2004-2008.

While experts are blaming Antwerp’s justice system for its back-log, the court is pointing the finger at the federal government because of budget cuts. There has also been sharp criticism against the judge who decided to set Bakelmans free until his hearing.

Three Antwerp women organised the march on Sunday to protest sexual violence and to recognise surviving victims, many of whom took part in the march. “We hope that enough people, resources and time are invested to make the fight againts sexual violence a priority, without making it a stigma,” said co-organiser Eline Van Hooydonck. “We must devote ourselves to prevention and a change in mentality but also to offering assistance and follow-up services to both offenders and victims.”

A wake for Van Espen was also held in Van Espen’s hometown of Schilde on Saturday morning. Her funeral will take place in the city’s OLV ten Hemel Opgenomen at 10.00 on 18 May.

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA