'Attitudes are changing': Reports of sexual violence surge across Belgium

'Attitudes are changing': Reports of sexual violence surge across Belgium
'Believing a victim is a choice that can save a life'. Credit: Belga / Gabriel Mitran

The number of sex crime allegations brought to the attention of Belgian public prosecutors has increased significantly over the past few years, l'Avenir reports.

According to figures recently released by Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD), allegations of sex crimes — including rape, voyeurism, and the possession of child pornography, among other offences — surged 33% in Belgium between 2017 and 2021.

Allegations of voyeurism experienced the largest increase (187%), followed by accusations relating to the creation, possession, or distribution of child pornography (136%). Rape allegations underwent the third biggest increase (32%).

'Attitudes are changing'

According to Véronique De Baets, a spokesperson for the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH, l’Institut pour l’égalité des femmes et des hommes), the surge in allegations should not necessarily be construed as indicating that there has been a corresponding increase in actual cases of sexual violence. Rather, she argues, people have simply become more willing — and able — to report such crimes.

"We are in a society where attitudes are changing, fortunately," De Baets explained to l'Avenir. "There has been increasing societal awareness related to #MeToo. The issue of rape is no longer considered the same way today as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Victims feel less 'prevented' from filing a complaint, since others are experiencing it too."

De Baets also attributed victims' increasing comfort with reporting sexual abuse to the creation of centres for the management of sexual violence (CPVS, centres de prise en charge de violences sexuelles), which have welcomed more than 6,000 victims since they were first established in Belgium in 2017.

In particular, she noted that 63% of victims who present themselves to a CPVS file a complaint shortly after being admitted: 7 times more than when they go straight to a police station after an alleged crime.

Related News

"Apart from at the CPVS, very few victims file complaints," De Baets noted. "They're scared. When they make up their minds, they are out of time for forensic work, the collection of evidence and the complaint becomes wobbly for these reasons. In the CPVS, care is often taken within 72 hours of sexual violence and everything is done to ensure that the complaint is followed up by the prosecutor's office."

She added that there is still work to be done in the reception of victims and the processing of cases. "We know that when the reception of the victim is not adequate — for instance, when there is no trained policeman present — there may be doubts about the victim and she may feel guilty. And sometimes, her complaint will not go to the prosecutor's office: either because the victim withdraws it or because she will minimise the facts. We must continue to form the first line of defence."

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.