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As a (potential) victim of sexual violence, you may be asking yourself many questions about what happened to you. Here you can find further information about what exactly constitutes sexual violence and how often it occurs. You will also find a detailed explanation of what responses, symptoms and feelings it may trigger. We will also guide you towards the appropriate help.
Sexual violence and consent
Sexual violence and consent
What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence covers any form of undesired sexual contact.
If there has been no physical contact between you and the perpetrator, this is known as hands-off sexual violence (sexual harassment, for example). Hands-on sexual violence concerns behaviour involving physical contact, such as violating of sexual integrity or rape.
The distinction between these latter two types of hands-on sexual violence lies in whether sexual penetration is involved:
- Sexual assault concerns behaviour that involves touching you without your consent, without involving sexual penetration, or whereby you are subjected to sexual acts without having to participate yourself.
- As soon as behaviour involves penetration of a sexual nature (by a body part such as the penis, tongue, fingers, or with an object) in a bodily opening, this constitutes rape.
What is consent?
The difference between desired and undesired sexual contact lies in the giving of consent. You may not have said "no" out loud to sexual contact, due to fear of violence or moral compulsion. Your body may also have said "no" by remaining silent or paralysed.
If you are still unsure as to what constitutes consent, you should watch this video.
Sexual violence occurs often
Sexual violence is a common problem: as much as 64% of the Belgian population between the ages of 16 and 69 years have experienced some form of sexual violence.1
Busting myths around sexual violence
A great many false beliefs are held about sexual violence. For example, it is often assumed that only men commit sexual violence and that the perpetrator of sexual violence is usually unknown to the victim.
A number of myths are busted in the FAQs.
- 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)).
Responses to sexual violence
How does your body respond to sexual violence?
Physical responses while experiencing sexual violence
When you experience sexual violence, your body switches to an automatic pilot mode, as it were, and its responses are instinctive. The FFFF model presents four possible responses:
Some victims get an erection or may orgasm during sexual violence. This may be confusing, because it seems as though they are enjoying the experience. It is important to know, however, that it is also possible to orgasm or ejaculate under extreme stress. A person therefore does not need to be sexually aroused.
All of these responses are normal. As a victim, you are never to blame, regardless of what your response was.
Feelings and effects resulting from sexual violence
All forms of sexual violence are serious and constitute a criminal offence. Remember that responsibility always lies with the perpetrator. There is no such thing as provocation or 'asking for it'. No one deserves or asks for sexual violence.
Symptoms may arise immediately after experiencing sexual violence, but may just as easily not manifest until years later.
The feelings associated with sexual violence vary from victim to victim: fear, confusion, shame, anger, humiliation, paralysis, among others.
A common feeling is guilt: because of what happened and should not have happened, because it happened to you, because you supposedly did not do enough to defend yourself, because you did not see it coming, because you did not dare say anything ... However it happened or in whatever way you responded: remember that you are not to blame. Your actions or decisions did not cause the violence, in any way. Only the perpetrator is to blame.
In addition to experiencing unpleasant feelings, as a victim, you may also experience physical or psychological effects of experiencing sexual violence, such as irritability, angry outbursts, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, excessive alertness, intense startled responses, psychological and physical responses to similar events, reliving the events, among others.
If you would like to find out more about the possible effects of sexual violence and practical tips for coping with it, you can read our leaflet for victims.
Information for young people
Are you a young person and have you experienced inappropriate touching?
Sexual violence and consent
If someone has touched you and you did not allow it, or persuaded you into sexual contact and you did not want to, this is not okay. This is considered to be sexual violence. Remember that you are never to blame, even if you did not say "no" out loud or you did not resist. Only the person who stepped over your boundaries is to blame.
If you are still unsure as to what consent means and what it doesn't, you should watch this video.
Sexual violence in the law
If you are aged 14 or younger, by law you can never consent to sexual contact. If you are aged between 14 and 16 years, the law allows you to consent to sexual contact with someone up to 3 years older.
As a minor, you can never consent if:
- The other person is a relative by blood or by marriage (e.g. a brother or sister, a (grand)parent, a uncle or aunt ...);
- The other person has a position of authority or trust towards you (e.g. a (sports) teacher, a doctor ...);
- Someone encourages you to have sexual contact with another person.
Seek help or talk about it
If you have experienced sexual violence, you may have confusing feelings such as guilt, shame and sadness. To make sense of these feelings, it is best not to be left alone with them. Talk about them with someone who you trust: a partner, a friend, your parents, a doctor, a teacher, a caregiver, a psychologist, etc.
If you would prefer to tell your story anonymously, you can speak to staff at Nupraatikerover.be or Awel.
- Nupraatikerover.be is a professional chatbox service for minors who have questions about or are victims of abuse, neglect or sexual violence. You can also send an email to email@example.com. Help is free of charge and anonymous.
- Awel provides a listening service run by volunteers. You can call Awel – free of charge and anonymously – on 102, speak to a volunteer via the chat function or send an email.
Sexual Assault Centres
You can find a listening ear and the care you need at a Sexual Assault Centre. Consult the help finder for more information about your situation. You can find the contact details of any Centre on the contact page.
Sexual Assault Centre
How can a Sexual Assault Centre help you?
A Sexual Assault Centre can provide victims with a complete package of care and assistance free of charge. Trained nurses, psychologists and the police work together as one team to provide you with the following services:
- Medical care: care of any wounds and injuries and performing a 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 on your body or on your clothing.
- Filing a report: you can file a report with the police in a Sexual Assault Centre. If you are still hesitant about doing this, the evidence collected will be kept for a pre-agreed period of time. You can then still decide later to file a report.
- Psychological care: the offer of a listening ear and provision of information and advice on the normal responses after sexual violence and how to cope with them. A Sexual Assault Centre also employs clinical psychologists who can monitor you.
- Aftercare: your medical and psychological health may be monitored by a Sexual Assault Centre for a while. Proper referral to the appropriate psychosocial and legal services will also be provided.
What a Sexual Assault Centre can do for you depends on how long ago the sexual violence incident occurred. Consult the help finder for more information about your specific situation. You can find the contact details of any Centre on the contact page.
Belgium has ten Sexual Assault Centres
Below you will find the contact information for each Sexual Assault Centre.