'Hugely disturbing': Almost 1 in 7 sexual violence victims is under age of 12

'Hugely disturbing': Almost 1 in 7 sexual violence victims is under age of 12
The care centre for victims of sexual violence at UZA, in Antwerp (Edegem). Credit: Belga/ Jonas Roosens

One in seven victims who sought help from the Sexual Violence Care Centre (ZSG) at the start of last year were under the age of 12, a figure that has been deemed "hugely disturbing," and one that highlights the need for more centres.

In the first five months of 2022, 13.5% of victims who knocked on the door of a ZSG — centres victims of sexual violence can obtain psychological support, medical care and help to file a police report if they wish to do so — were under 12 years old, Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter said during a visit to the ZSG at the university hospital in Ghent (UZ Gent).

"These are hugely disturbing figures from early 2022, showing one in seven applications in these care centres involved children under 12," she noted. The UGent ZSG received a total of 589 victims last year, 46 more than the year before, marking the highest number recorded since the specialised centre opened. Here, one in three victims was a minor.

Worrying trend continues

These figures — an increase from 2021, when the figure was 11% for the entire year — are just the tip of the iceberg, as many of these incidents go underreported, meaning they therefore also go unpunished, which was also highlighted by De Sutter. "The worst thing about these figures is that, most likely, many young victims don't even find their way to the care centre."

This worrying trend in the demographics of the victims that are reporting themselves to the centres was already highlighted in previous statistics released by these care points in May last year, pointing to a rising number of young people seeking help.

Seven hospitals across Belgium currently have ZSG, including in Antwerp (UZA), Brussels (UMC Saint-Pierre), Charleroi (UMC Marie Curie), at UZ Gent, in Leuven (UZ Leuven), Liège (UMC Liège) and in Roeselare at AZ Delta, which opened last year and reported that in its first six months, 191 victims were registered, of which 36% were minors.

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To ensure help can be provided more quickly and that assistance is accessible to all victims, the Federal Government is opening three additional care centres, in line with promises made in 2021 that there would be a national network of 10 fully-fledged post-violence care centres by 2024.

These three new centres will be opened in this year in Genk, Arlon and Namur.

According to preliminary results since the first centres opened, it has been concluded that victims who receive comprehensive care at the ZSG are more likely to recover, do so faster and are also less likely to be victimised again. Find more information about the centres and the help they offer here.

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