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59 reports of sexual abuse in the Church in Belgium in 2020

Credit: Belga

Last year, 59 reports of sexual abuse were received by the Catholic Church’s contact points last year, the institution said in a wide-ranging report on abuse published on Monday.

In 2012, ten contact points were set up with the aim of combating such abuse and enabling victims to be recognised, after it was found that victims often came forward after 20 or 30 years and the statute of limitations already expired.

Last year, these contact points received 59 reports, which is a lot more than the two previous years: in 2018 and 2019 together, the total was 64. In 2016 and 2017, eights reports were made.

“Perhaps the increase in the number of reports in 2020 is a possible consequence of the repeated willingness to pay serious attention to possible remedial measures, even though the Church clearly realises that this will not be able to undo the injustice done,” the report stated.

Of the 59 reports made in 2020, 16 concerned rape, 27 were received about sexual assault with violence, and four involved “an exceptional length of time or circumstances of the sexual abuse.”

The majority of the cases were old, and just over half of the known perpetrators were already deceased at the time of reporting, according to the report.

“The fact that the demand for a referral to a judicial authority is so low is mainly explained by the small number of offences that are not statute-barred according to the rules of justice at the time,” the report stated.

Almost 60% (35 reports) of these reports came from people in Flanders, 17 from Wallonia and seven from the bilingual archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, meaning it is unknown if they come from the Dutch or the French-speaking region

In 46 cases, the victim reported the facts. Three times, they were brought to light by family members and 10 cases were reported by other parties. One case was disclosed by the perpetrator and the victim.

At the time of reporting, three victims were still minors and two others were between 18 and 20 years old, while 70% of them were over 40 years old, with 16 victims even older than 60.

36 of the reported cases (61 %) occurred more than 30 years ago and 22 (31 %) even more than 40 years ago. 18 facts (30%) date from the last 20 years.

Of the victims, 32 were men and 27 were women. Of the perpetrators, 95% were male.

In 16 cases, the abuse took place in a school setting, and 18 in a church setting. Six victims were altar boys at the time of the abuse.

However, 11 cases were referred to the courts “because the statute of limitations was not clear or because the perpetrator who was still alive could pose a risk,” the report said.

In July 2021, 15 of the 59 cases were still pending. Half of the other cases were closed with a financial settlement (compensation between €1,000 and more than €25,000). Seven people received an amount between €20,000 and €25,000, and one victim received more than €25,000.

This year, the ten local contact points will be replaced by two common hotlines for reporting sexually transgressive behaviour in a pastoral context, and the Church continues to encourage victims to come forward.

“In order to survive or to avoid burdening their relationships, victims may choose to remain silent for a very long time,” the report said. “But remaining silent can have a devastating effect, as long as one does not speak out about what needs to be brought to light, in order to finally find healing and healing.”

Victims can report to the Central Infopoint on 02/507.05.93 and via info.misbruik@kerknet.be.

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