Bart De Pauw, one of the most popular and most succesful television makers and entertainers Flanders has ever known, has recently been accused of sexual harassment by several women that worked for him in the past. Paul Lembrechts, the CEO of vrt, one of the main Flemish television and radio networks, says he spotted a ‘clear pattern’ in the testimonies of the women, and decided to severe ties with Bart De Pauw and his company, ‘Koeken Troef!’. The CEO drew some criticism for this action, which some see as premature and overly hasty. On social media De Pauw gets a lot of support. Others point out that there’s a trend to blame the victim and that Bart De Pauw is unwilling to really consider the damage he may have caused. On top of that the case has escalated so much now that even the legal details are getting complex and blurry.
In the wake of the #metoo campaign Flemish television network called on employees to report any inappropriate conduct to their internal prevention service. Several women -more than ten according to some sources- came forward, independently of each other, all pointing in the direction of Bart De Pauw. CEO Paul Lembrechts confronted De Pauw with the case against him, and after two meetings, ruled that there was a ‘breach of confidence’ and decided to end the cooperation with De Pauw immediately. Lembrechts claims that what De Pauw did was more than just flirting, that he was stalking these women, and sending them pornographic messages. The code of conduct of the vrt is the same for everyone, and so this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated. It would also be unfair to the women who testified to ignore their complaints. To protect the women who have come forward, their names are still not known. When the decision was made to cut ties, these names were not communicated to Bart De Pauw either. For that reason he launched a video message on YouTube last Thursday, November 9th.
‘Flucht nach vorne’
CEO Lembrechts was surprised when Bart De Pauw took matters into his own hands by being the first to communicate about the case. In a three minute long video message he explains how he can be flirtatious at time, that he likes to makes jokes, that he’s an innocent jester. His motive is to create a pleasant, cordial atmosphere with everyone he works with. And that he’s sorry if that offended anyone. The video got over 300,000 views in a matter of days. On Facebook a surprising number of pages popped up that support him.
In the comments fans hinted that the women probably weren’t that innocent either. Some even thought that the whole thing was part of a new ‘brilliant’ reality tv show De Pauw was working on. In his video message he clearly stated: ‘This is not a joke’.
A minority condemned the video message as tasteless and direspectful to the women he’s hurt. In later interviews on television and on the radio he repeated that he has no idea who is accusing him. He denied ever having stalked anybody. He said the only time some of the recipients of his flirtatious smsses it was in the form of the rather mild rebuke: ‘Aren’t you married?’. CEO Lembrechts repeated in subsequent interviews on television and radio that what he’s seen certainly does amount to stalking.
‘I want to have sex with you’
One woman anonymously says the celebrity sent her messages practically every night, for weeks on end, that read ‘I want to have sex with you’.
Anonymous sources have complained about the way Bart De Pauw behaves on sets, he’s accused of having sent hundreds of smsses with pornographic content, stalking and manipulation, and even some inappropriate touching.
The women who say they were harassed by De Pauw confided in a fellow actress, Hilde Van Mieghem, with years of experience in the Flemish entertainment business. Although not one of the victims herself she says she is risking her own neck by calling this kind of behavior out. She’s read some of the messages De Pauw sent, and labels them as ‘disgusting’. She also says the victims are scared and that it took them an inordinate amount of courage to tell their stories, even anonymously. What’s clearly implied is that they are all scared Bart De Pauw could use his powerful influence to wreck their careers. Hilde Van Mieghem got so many negative messages for speaking out, that even she has now decided to not say more for the time being.
Other celebrities are divided over the issue
Belgian direction Hans Van Nuffel said the following in a status update on Facebook:
‘After a conversation in a bar during which the whole Bart De Pauw story resurfaced, I would like to get this off my chest. I know at least two of his victims, and probably a bunch more than that. The way he sometimes mindfucked them for weeks on end on and off the set was really not ok. He is and remains a powerful man, no matter how pettable he may look’.
The use of the adjective ‘pettable’ refers to the fact that De Pauw is often potrayed as a cute, sensitive teddybear.
Van Nuffel went on: ‘ Bart is no monster, but he does need help. If he could realize this and could retreat from the public domain for a while, it would be praiseworthy.’
An other director, Jan Verheyen, defended De Pauw and criticized vrt for its decision:
‘Sure, vrt should have reprimanded Bart for what he did, but what is happening now is way out of proportion.’
‘Does the punishment fit the crime?’, he asked during a radio interview.
He also said that vrt was playing both the judge and the jury in this case. He thinks a case like this should be decided upon in a courtroom. He was also one of the few to remind people about Bart De Pauw’s family, who will now have to explain what’s happning to his children. Verheyen would like his long time friend to get some privacy in this matter. ‘Celebrities don’t have more rights than others, but not less either.’
Joris Van Cauter, a somewhat famous Belgian lawyer, who was the lawyer of the Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted, back in 2010, to having sexually abused two nephews, had this to say on Twitter:
‘The #meetoo ship has gone adrift. Anonymous executioners are in power.’
The situation does get a little complicated from a legal point of view.
There are two different legal issues here. On the one hand there’s the conflict between Bart De Pauw and, let’s say, his employer, vrt, and on the other hand there’s De Pauw’s possible criminal wrongdoing.
From a legal viewpoint it’s now virtually impossible for Bart De Pauw to take the network to court for slander, because he made the news public himself through his video message. Theoretically he could fight this decision, but vrt seems to have had sufficient ground to cut ties with him. If he could convince a judge to rule in his favor, vrt may face the payment of a substantial sum in compensation. De Pauw’s video message, making the case public, makes that unlikely.
The victims did not intend to press charges, they only wanted to his behavior towards them to stop, but in the wake of the social media storm they did take their case to a lawyer. They are now represented by Christine Mussche, a lawyer specialized in indecency offenses. In the mean time more women have come forward. Some sources claim it concerns more than ten women. Christine Mussche has suggested in the media that Bart De Pauw’s reactions have made it worse. He apologized on Sunday, but it was too little too late.
Since stalking does not require a formal complaint for the police to open an investigation, the buildings of the vrt were searched on Saturday in an attempt by the police to get to the bottom of this situation.
Bart De Pauw himself has also sought legal representation and will not communicate anymore concerning the issue.
The media also doesn’t escape criticism
Especially on social media people have pointed out how some Flemish newspapers are rather eager to exploit this news. Some of those that were quick to crucify the accused were sometimes asked to look at their own flaws first. Some are asking themselves where the border is between innocent flirting and misconduct. Others also say this case is getting much more attention than it deserves, and that the issue belongs in a court. Female employees of Bart De Pauw’s company say newspapers contacted that and pressured them to also accuse their boss (which they didn’t), an indication that the media are eager to report this kind of new, because it’s well know that ‘if it reads it bleeds’. There seems to be a collective voyeuristic streak that makes us all click on these kind of articles. Here and there the case has sparked a good deal of self-reflection with people asking themselves if they themselves never crossed any borders.
Where do you know Bart De Pauw from?
Internationally he made his mark on the movie scene when a movie he is the co-writer of got an American version, namely ‘The Loft’. If you grew up in Flanders in the nineties it’s very likely you know him from such programmes as Buiten De Zone (in the pictures above he’s playing a clumsy seducer, a comical type that he excels at. A bit ironcic given the present circumstances), Schalkse Ruiters, Het Geslacht De Pauw and many others. He’s also known as an entertaining quizmaster. Nobody can say the man is not talented. It’s unfortunate he didn’t find the strength to resist temptation and to respect the boundaries of some of his co-workers. When justice will have had his way, and when he’s come to terms with what he’s caused, he will deserve a second chance. In the mean time, we should separate the man and his actions and the man and his artistic output.