Revenge porn cases rise sharply in Belgium

Revenge porn cases rise sharply in Belgium
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In 2016-2020, the number of reported incidents of “revenge porn”, the sharing of explicit images without the knowledge or consent of the other person, increased significantly, according to Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Revenge porn is generally targeted at women and is sometimes used by men as a way to attempt to humiliate them, especially following breakups. Ex-partners will share, without their partner’s knowledge or permission, intimate or nude images of the victim over the internet.

Sharing explicit images of someone without their permission in Belgium is illegal, and punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment. Upon the introduction of Belgium’s new sexual penal code on 1 June, the minimum sentence will be extended to one year of time served.

Despite these tough sentences, figures from the Federal police show that incidents are on the up. In 2016, 130 incidents of revenge porn were reported in Belgium. By 2020, the police received 830 reports, a 538% increase over four years.

Incidents are on the up in all major cities across Belgium. Brussels police registered 42 cases in 2020, compared to just 13 in 2016. Likewise, in Charleroi, incidents increased more than sevenfold in four years.

During the pandemic, there was an increase in reports relating to online exploitation and abuse. Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden noted the “increased online vulnerability” of internet users during this period.

A meeting organised last week by the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH), the cabinet of the Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne, and social media companies seeks to reverse this trend, and better combat the dissemination of revenge porn online.

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According to Le Soir, one of the ideas proposed at the brainstorm was a legal obligation to delete nude images when the person pictured no longer wants them to be viewed.

“A woman could then demand that her ex-boyfriend delete everything, and the simple fact of continuing to possess these images, despite the withdrawal of consent,would be an offence,” Maxim Töller, author of a study on revenge porn and party to the discussion, told Le Soir.

Van Quickenborne has yet to communicate the results of the revenge porn meeting last week, but the minister assures that “discussions are in full swing and all parties around the table agree that this issue must be addressed.”

Reported cases of sexual violence have more than doubled in the last three years. In 2017, 924 cases were reported in Belgium. In 2020, this rose to 1,977, or more than six reports per day.

This does not necessarily mean that more violence is occurring in Belgium. According to Sarah Durant from the Brussels public prosecutor’s office, social movements such as #MeToo mean that sexual violence is being much more widely reported.


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