Sexual assault cases handled by Brussels authorities double in three years

Sexual assault cases handled by Brussels authorities double in three years
"Violator, it's up to you to be scared," a sign reads at a demonstration against sexual harassment. Credit: Belga

The number of sexual offence cases handled by the Brussels public prosecutor's office has more than doubled in three years: from 924 cases in 2017 to 1,977 in 2020.

This amounts to more than six reports a day, clarified the public prosecutor's office, which sees various explanations for the increase, according to figures reported by L'Echo.

"We are indeed noticing a big increase," Sarah Durant of the Brussels public prosecutor's office confirmed to VRT. "A first explanatory factor is the #MeToo movement. It is indeed true that a number of people are now filing complaints more easily."

Additionally, the opening of the Care Centres after Sexual Violence - like the one that opened in Antwerp on Wednesday - plays an important role, she says.

These multidisciplinary centres are places where victims are received and immediately counselled. The police are present there, as teams of psychologists and doctors, for example.

"A third factor is the recent change in the law that has made a number of acts and behaviours punishable," Durant said. "Think, for example, of voyeurism or revenge porn."

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In how many of these cases the public prosecutor's office also identified possible suspects, or proceeded to prosecution, was not made clear.

The Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office currently has a team of three magistrates, three lawyers and four administrative staff members working on cases involving sexual offences. "We have been promised that another lawyer will be recruited to strengthen the team," she added.

Sexual assault investigations take a long time, because they are very delicate, Durant said. "Not only are camera images collected, but also biological traces. Only at the end of an investigation is the suspect then confronted with all the elements."

Such expertise, like DNA exexpertise, takes up a lot of time. "For the victims, that is not ideal," she added.

"It is important for us to be able to conduct the investigation as correctly as possible. It is therefore very important that the victim files a complaint as soon as possible, so that we can collect objective elements," said Durant.

"The biological traces also play a very important role, which is why it is important that victims do not immediately wash their body and, for example, keep sheets and clothes without washing them," she added.

"We understand that this is not always easy, but it is important for the investigation."

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