Last year saw a record total of 4,664 official complaints of sexual violence, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement and to the work of the country’s three sexual violence after-care centres.
The figures come from the databank of the country’s college of prosecutors-general, as reported by De Morgen, and show a rise in the number of reported incidents of 25% over the past decade.
“I see a new type of evolution,” said Liesbet Stevens, deputy director of the Institute for Equality between Women and Men and professor at Leuven university’s Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies.
“For years, the number of rapes has hovered around 3,500. Since 2017, we have been above 4,000 declarations, and the number continues to rise.”
The number of reports of sexual violence disguises what is called the dark number – the assumption that the number of actual incidents is actually many times higher than the number of reports. The generally accepted notion in the field is that reports make up only 10% of the total incidents.
Professor Stevens sees a change in the pattern of reporting, reflected in the figures.
“We may be seeing the effect of #MeToo here,” she said. “Obviously, more research is needed for this, but there is no denying that since that started there has been more openness about sexual violence. The message that victims are not at all guilty is also regularly repeated.”
Another factor increasing reporting is the operation of three centres for the care of victims of sexual violence. They have been operating in Ghent, Liege and Brussels since 2017, providing a range of services for victims – medical, psychological, social and legal.
Since they were set up, the centres have dealt with 2,240 victims, and the multidisciplinary approach has helped to cut down the dark number.
“We see that there is a great willingness in these centres to file a complaint,” said Ines Keygnaert, professor of sexual violence at Ghent University. “In the care centres, 68% of victims file a complaint.”
The minister for equal opportunities, Nathalie Muylle (CD&V) has set aside €6 million to extend the three existing centres and create three new ones, in Charleroi, Antwerp and Leuven. And the government aims by 2023 to have one in each province of the country – ten in all, including the one in Brussels.
“If we want such a centre in every province, we will need a total of €20 million,” said Professor Stevens. “That will require some discussion.”