About the Sexual Assault Centres
The Sexual Assault Centres provide multidisciplinary care to victims of sexual violence and advice to their support circle. All the care is offered in one place by a specially trained team.
What can a Sexual Assault Centre offer you?
As a victim, you can go there for medical and psychological care and for evidence of the sexual violence to be collected. If you wish, you can also report it to the police.
Why a policy on sexual violence is necessary
It is a common problem
According to the most recent prevalence study, as many as 64% of the Belgian population between the ages of 16 and 69 have already experienced some form of sexual violence, ranging from sexual harassment to sexual exploitation.1 The same survey shows that two in five women and one in five men have faced 'hands-on' sexual violence, where they were touched physically without wanting this. 19% of women and 5% of men reported having been raped.
Its impact can be huge
Sexual violence can have a huge impact. A victim may develop physical and/or psychological symptoms, as well as having to deal with sexual and reproductive consequences. Sexual violence can also affect both the victim and society on a socio-economic level (for example, when a person is incapacitated for work for a long period of time as a result of the sexual violence).
To minimise the risk of such consequences, it is important for a victim to have access to appropriate professional care. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done: only 7% of the respondents who identified themselves as victims in the above study reported having sought professional help.
It often stays under the radar
In 2021, police recorded more than 4,000 cases of rape2, which equates to more than 11 rapes per day in Belgium.
Yet, according to the Veiligheidsmonitor [Safety Monitor]3, only 25% of victims who experience sexual violence within a family context report these incidents. For sexual violence outside the family context, the percentage is 16%. Other studies, such as a study conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights4 and a study by the Institute for the equality of women and men5, also showed that victims often do not (or dare not) come forward with what has happened to them. Consequently, the dark number of acts of sexual violence is enormously high.
It is often one person's word against another’s
When a victim does take the step to file a report, a great deal of time may have passed. This impacts the ability to preserve any traces of the violence (e.g. on the body or clothing). The less evidence that can be collected, the harder it is to prove sexual assault. This may result in the Public Prosecutor's Office deciding not to prosecute the case. In this situation, a case is dismissed by reason of the unlikelihood of a conviction.
Separating the reporting of the incident and the investigation for evidence could ensure that the risk of such a dismissal is reduced. In this case, a victim can have samples taken as evidence without already having to decide to report the sexual assault. This gives the victim more time and space, without losing possible evidence. If the victim then files a report later, the samples taken can be used to add to the criminal case file.
Keygnaert, I. - De Schrijver, L. - Cismaru Inescu, A. - Schapansky, E. - Nobels, A. - Hahaut, B. - Stappers, C.- Debauw, Z. - Lemonne, A. - Renard, B. - Weewauters, M. - Nisen, L. - Vander Beken, T. - Vandeviver, C. Understanding the Mechanisms, Nature, Magnitude and Impact of Sexual Violence in Belgium. Final Report. Brussels: Belgian Science Policy 2021 – 142 p. (BRAIN-be - (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks)).
- Federal Police (2022). Police crime statistics Belgium.
- Federal Police – DGR [General Directorate of Resource Management and Information] – Police Information and ICT (2022). Veiligheidsmonitor 2021.
- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). Violence against women: an EU-wide survey.
- Institute for the equality of women and men (2010). Emotional, physical and sexual abuse - the experiences of women and men.
How did the Sexual Assault Centres come into being?
The Sexual Assault Centres have their origins in Article 25 of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, or the 'Istanbul Convention' for short. The Article requires each party to provide the necessary measures for "the setting up of appropriate, easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres for victims in sufficient numbers to provide for medical and forensic examination, trauma support and counselling for victims".
The Istanbul Convention was ratified by the Belgian state on 14 March 2016. Further to this, the State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity and the Institute for the equality of women and men commissioned the International Centre of Reproductive Health at Ghent University to conduct a feasibility study. This study examined what care victims of sexual violence need and how best to organise it within the Belgian context.
Based on the feasibility study, the 'Sexual Assault Centres' model was developed and put into practice in 2017. On 25 October 2017, three Sexual Assault Centres opened their doors as a pilot project, in the cities of Brussels (at UMC Sint-Pieter), Ghent (at UZ Gent) and Liège (at UMC Liège).
After a year of pilots, the results of the evaluation spoke for themselves: as many as 930 victims found their way to one of the three Sexual Assault Centres. Victims, persons in the victim's support circle, and the professionals involved were positive about the operation and experienced the Sexual Assault Centres' approach as being very valuable.
Given this positive evaluation, it was decided to expand the offering of Sexual Assault Centres so that all victims in Belgium can reach a Sexual Assault Centre within one hour. For this reason, the federal government made a budget available in 2020 for the expansion of the three pilot centres and the construction of seven additional Sexual Assault Centres. These Sexual Assault Centres opened in phases in Antwerp (UZA), Charleroi (UMC Charleroi), West Flanders (AZ Delta), Leuven (UZ Leuven), Limburg (Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg), Namur (CHRSM) and Luxembourg (Vivalia Arlon).
Partners associated with the Sexual Assault Centres
A Sexual Assault Centre develops from a collaboration of three primary partners: a hospital, the police and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Each partner, drawing on their own expertise, contributes to the care and/or support of victims of sexual violence who come to the Sexual Assault Centre. Therefore, the hospital is responsible for providing the necessary medical and psychological care and examining the victim for possible evidence of sexual violence. The police are responsible for drawing up a report, if the victim decides to file a report. In this case, the investigation will be followed up by the Public Prosecutor's Office with a view to possible prosecution of the perpetrator(s) of the sexual violence.
The primary partners also work closely with the Victim Support Services of the Justice Houses, the Child Cruelty Trust Centres, and SOS Enfants. These organisations are called the Sexual Assault Centres' secondary partners.
Finally, at the local level, contacts and arrangements are also made with other organisations such as Victim Services of the General Welfare Centres, the Family Justice Centres, peer and support groups, and others. In this way, staff at the Sexual Assault Centres can offer a warm referral to specialised assistance.
The Institute for the equality of women and men
At the national level, the Institute for the equality of women and men, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities and Gender Equality, coordinates the operation of the Sexual Assault Centres and supports local partners in their day-to-day operations. As part of this, the Institute evaluates the operation and – in consultation with experts (from the field) – makes proposals to optimise the operation.
What is offered by the Sexual Assault Centres
A Sexual Assault Centre provides victims with a range of holistic care services, 24/7 and free of charge. Trained professionals, including nurses, psychologists, and police officers, work as part of one team to provide the following services to victims of sexual violence:
- Medical care: care of any wounds and injuries and performing medical examination to treat the physical, sexual and/or reproductive effects of sexual violence (including STD screening, emergency contraception, treatment if at risk from HIV transmission, and preventative or indicated treatment of hepatitis A or B and of tetanus).
- Forensic examination: recording any injuries and collecting evidence of sexual violence on the victim's body or clothing.
- Filing of a report: filing a report with the police. This is not a requirement, however. If the victim is still hesitant about doing this, the evidence collected will be kept for a prearranged period of time. The victim may then still decide later to file a report.
- Psychological care: lending a listening ear and provision of information and advice on the normal responses after sexual violence and how to cope with them. Clinical psychologists also work at Sexual Assault Centres, which allows a consultation to be scheduled.
- Aftercare: monitoring of medical and psychological health and/or referral to the appropriate psychosocial and legal services.
A victim may choose to be accompanied during the visit to the Sexual Assault Centre by a member of their support circle. This person is also offered the necessary psychological support and may schedule an appointment with a psychologist at the Sexual Assault Centre, if wished.
The SAC model
The SAC model
The operation of the Sexual Assault Centres was laid down in a model. This sets out the national criteria that a Sexual Assault Centre must meet in terms of infrastructure and personnel and defines standard procedures.
There are currently no vacancies.