The High Council of Justice (HCJ) has issued a report calling for the justice system to make an “absolute priority” of the matter of sexual violence.
“The HRJ notes that there is a lot of goodwill within the judiciary, but there is no integrated policy on an approach to sexual violence,” the report concludes. And it makes three recommendations.
Everyone who handles issues involving sexual matters should receive regular training. Magistrates should be familiar with the basic principles of risk assessment. And an attempt needs to be made to make courthouses more fitted to the needs of victims.
The HCJ is an independent body that has three main roles: to carry out external audits and investigations into the workings of the judicial system; to offer independent advice on matters of importance; and to organise examinations for entry into the magistrature as well as nominating magistrates for positions to be filled by the ministry of justice.
The report offers a snapshot of the situation at present regarding sexual crimes.
• There has been a slight increase in the number of sexual violence cases in the last two years. In 2019, there were 4,664 rape cases and 4404 cases of indecent assault. The number of cases that were dropped fell by a little over 17%. • Sex cases account for about 4.5% of the total number of new criminal cases in courts and about 1.86% of cases on appeal. • The holistic approach of the Sexual Violence Care Centres is generally seen as very positive. • The shortage of medical examiners and forensic behavioural scientists is “dire”. Moreover, not all of the few legal psychiatrists are sufficiently aware of the latest techniques of risk assessment. • There is a shortage of therapeutic treatment for sexual offenders. • At the moment, prosecutors do not have to use the Victim Reception service in every sex crime case. • Judges have received relatively few training courses on sexual violence in recent years. • There is a risk that some underage victims will be forgotten.
The last point was echoed this week by Child Focus, the charity for missing and sexually exploited children.
The organisation carried out a study into the victims of so-called loverboys – men who exploit young girls by seducing them and then forcing them into prostitution. And the study concludes that the problem in Brussels is real and is growing.
The investigators found that the pimps are active in youth gangs, and prey particularly on underage girls from comfortable backgrounds in neighbourhoods like the richer communes to the south of Brussels.
In this respect, the facts contradict the popular image of underage prostitutes as troubled teens and runaways. Those girls do form the majority of victims, but girls from well-off families account for one in three of all cases.
“These girls seem to be remarkably easy to ‘groom’ over the internet,” the charity said. “They are vulnerable due to absent parents, loneliness and a yearning for a different life from what was mapped out for them.”