A record number of sexual violence victims have come forward last year in Belgium. Per month, there are now at least 193 victims of sexual violence, and the demographic is becoming worryingly younger, according to statistics from the Care Centres after Sexual Violence (Zorgcentra na Seksueel Geweld) viewed by Het Laatste Nieuws.
The Care Centres for Victims of Sexual Violence are a series of medical and psychological care facilities which offer support services to victims of sexual violence across the country.
In Belgium, one in five women and one in twenty men will experience rape in their lifetime, according to Wim Van de Voorde, the Flemish coordinator of the 1712 abuse hotline.
Over the last year, reports of sexual violence have risen significantly in Belgium. In 2020, for example, 86 victims reported their abuse to the Belgian Care Centres per month. In the first half of 2021, reports increased to 128 per month, reaching 193 by the end of the year. 65% of complaints pertain to rape.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that more sexual violence is happening in Belgium. Rather, sexual violence is now being more widely reported and there is a greater awareness in Belgium about the care available to victims of sexual aggression.
Various hotlines and support service increasingly refer victims to the the services offered by the Care Centres after Sexual Violence. The centres offer a wide range of services, such as helping to report crimes, providing listening services, as well as forensic investigations and follow-up care.
Increasingly young victims
However, as sexual violence is being more widely reported, so too are disturbing cases of abuse committed against children and young adults. Around 51% all reports made to the centres are made by victims who are still studying, and 34% are still minors.
Deputy director of the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, Liesbet Stevens, said that this statistics does indeed demonstrate a worrying trend.
“We are shocked by this. For minors, the impact of sexual violence is even greater, so we need to pay explicit attention to this,” Stevens told HLN.
It is not possible to accurately explain the increase in violence against children. Both greater visibility of the Care Centres, as well as the reopening of nightlife and entertainment venues following the Covid pandemic may be factors, explained Stevens.
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In the city of Ghent, reports of sexual violence doubled from September to October 2021, the same period when clubs began to reopen.
Violence against young people in clubs across the country has frequently made headlines in Belgium. A disturbing new trend of attempted spiking attempts using needles has been recorded at bars, nightclubs, and venues across the country, and more globally across Europe.
If you have experienced sexual violence and wish to receive support, visit the Stop Geweld website for phone number to call or an anonymous web chat help in English, French, Dutch, and German.