A Care Centre for Sexual Violence (ZSG) was opened up in West Flanders six months ago. Since then, it has registered one victim per day.
As part of the current government's vow to work on a more active and multidisciplinary approach to the widespread issue of sexual harassment in Belgium, it has opened up more such centres, which serve as reception points for victims where they can obtain psychological support, medical care and help to file a police report if they wish to do so.
In the first six months of the centre being open, 191 victims were registered. "This amounts to almost one victim per day, among whom 93% are women and 36% minors," Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne said.
"The number of registrations far exceeds expectations (about 220 registrations of victims in one year) and illustrates all the more that sexual violence is a large and underexposed social problem."
Cannot rest on our laurels
These figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as many of these incidents go underreported, meaning they therefore also go unpunished.
Even when incidents are reported, the lack of conclusive evidence means perpetrators are often not convicted: if some 8,000 cases are reported, just 900 will actually result in a conviction.
In reality, it is estimated that some 100 rapes occur in Belgium every day. According to research by the University of Ghent in 2021, 10% of the women surveyed were victims of sexual violence in the past year (for men, this figure was 6%).
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Next year, another three centres will open in Limburg, Luxembourg and Namur. It is hoped the further development of the ZSGs — there are now seven across the country — will help ensure more willingness to report, in turn leading to more convictions.
Additionally, on 1 June, the new sexual penal code came into force, resulting in heavier sentences for rape and sexual assault.
"But we cannot rest on our laurels now. There is still much to be done to better protect victims. I want to say clearly to every victim: you are not alone. Go to a care centre after sexual violence, where they are ready to help you. The police and the justice system take every complaint seriously," Van Quickenborne said.
Victims of sexual violence can call 1712 anonymously, chat on nupraatikerover.be (in Dutch) or surf to seksueelgeweld.be (in Dutch, French and German) for more information, or can visit one of the centres to receive help after experiencing sexual violence.