Nicolas Maeterlinck

15,000 in Silent March against sexual violence in Antwerp

About 15,000 people have joined the "Silent March", an initiative taken after the murder on 23-year-old Julie Van Espen. Participants want to express a silent protest against sexual violence, violence in general and the way the judicial authorities are handling this. "Make sexual violence a priority #enough." 

The march started around 2pm on the Koningin Astridplein, a square next to Antwerp's Central Station, taking participants through the old centre to the Steenplein, near the River Scheldt. Police were first talking of 8,000 participants, adjusting this figure to 10,000 and 15,000 later on. The course was adjusted because of the high attendance. 

Organisers underlined that this event is organised by and for the public at large, and warned politicians not to take advantage from it. Political campaigns are well underway, just two weeks before the general elections of 26 May. Organisers had announced the event on Facebook, saying they want a "serene and respectful march" to be held in silence. They highlighted that everybody was welcome, regardless of gender, background, sexual orientation etc. 

Organisers want to protest against any kind of sexual violence or plain violence on people, and against "the failing approach of the judicial authorities". The assailant of Julie Van Espen had been convicted of rape twice before, and had been released despite being sentenced to a four-year prison term. After the second rape, he was freed again because he appealed against his conviction.

" We hope that the Belgian authorities can make the battle against sexual violence a priority, engaging more staff where needed, earmaking more financial means and investing more time", organiser Eline Van Hooydonck told reporters.