I wish to refer a victim
You may come into contact with a victim of sexual violence in a professional capacity. This page will tell you when to refer someone to a Sexual Assault Centre and how to support the victim in this situation.
Sexual Assault Centre
Referring a victim to a Sexual Assault Centre
As soon as there has been any form of hands-on sexual violence, which is sexual violence involving physical contact between the perpetrator and the victim, you can refer the victim to a Sexual Assault Centre.
Trained nurses work there who can provide the victim with medical care, psychological support, and a physical examination for forensic purposes. A victim and any member of their support circle there may also be monitored by a psychologist. The care provided by the Sexual Assault Centre is free of charge to the victim.
If the victim wishes to report the facts, the police can be contacted from the Sexual Assault Centre. It is important to convey to the victim that this is not a requirement: a victim is entitled to the medical and psychological care even without filing a report. In this case, the evidence collected will be kept for a prearranged period of time. This may be taken by the police if the victim later decides to report the crime.
The Sexual Assault Centre is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. If the sexual violence occurred less than a week ago, you can refer a victim directly to the Sexual Assault Centre or you can contact them by phone or email. If the sexual violence occurred more than a week ago, it is best to make an appointment.
What a Sexual Assault Centre can do for a victim depends on how long ago the sexual violence incident occurred. You can find more information according to the victim's specific situation using the help finder.
You can find the contact details of all Sexual Assault Centres on the contact page.
Tips for when you come into contact with a victim
For victims, expressing what has happened to them and seeking help is often a big step. As a professional, you can lower the barrier by offering a listening ear without passing judgement on what the victim says. On this page, you will find some tips and points of interest that can help you with this.
Discussing sexual violence in a medical context
As a health professional, you are responsible for the well-being of your patient or client. For someone to have the space to share sensitive information, such as experiencing sexual violence, a bond of trust must be established. The victim is central to this and remains in control.
This means that, as a professional, you respect the victim's autonomy at all times: you do this, on the one hand, by informing the victim continually and in the correct manner and, on the other hand, by making it clear that the right of decision-making remains in the hands of the victim.
For more information, you can refer to a Manual from the Institute for the equality of women and men. It provides answers to several questions that health professionals may be prompted to ask while providing care to victims of sexual violence.
Risk of victim blaming and secondary victimisation
When a victim discloses having experienced sexual violence, it is important to be alert to how you respond and behave towards the victim. In fact, a victim often feels a great deal of shame about what happened and sometimes struggles with guilt. Avoid fuelling such feelings further. Therefore, avoid victim blaming questions such as "Why were you there, in particular?" and "Didn't you have a bit much to drink?".
Offer the victim a listening ear: when a victim feels heard, without being judged in the process, you can reduce the risk of secondary victimisation.
Act to help preserve evidence
Refer the victim to a Sexual Assault Centre as soon as possible after the events. After 72 hours, the likelihood of finding evidence during forensic examination decreases. Keep the following in mind:
- Avoid physical contact with the victim.
- Do not offer the victim a drink or allow them to rinse their mouth if there has been oral contact.
- If the victim needs to go to the toilet, ask them to collect it in a jar and hand it in at the Sexual Assault Centre. If the victim had a sanitary towel in the underwear, it is best stored in a paper bag.
- Put clothing or sheets in a paper bag and have the victim bring it to the Sexual Assault Centre. In any case, avoid plastic bags. At the Sexual Assault Centre, a victim can be given replacement clothing or the staff can see if someone can bring fresh clothing later.
Professional secrecy vs right to be heard
As a professional, you may be bound by professional secrecy. This is essential given the trust relationship you build with your patient or client during the process.
If you are made aware of any sexual violence or you identify signals that your patient or client is experiencing (has experienced) sexual violence, you want to be able to help that person as best you can. As a result, you sometimes have to make difficult choices without losing sight of the patient's or client's trust and your own professional ethics. This can sometimes create a great deal of uncertainty about how to respond.
To guide doctors in this choice, the Institute for the equality of women and men, the Belgian Order of Physicians, and Professor Tom Goffin of Ghent University have developed a Reporting Code and accompanying Manual. These documents attempt to answer various questions professionals may ask when caring for victims of sexual violence and to support them in this task.
Referral to other organisations
Where else can you refer a victim to?
In addition to family, friends and other confidants, there are several organisations that can help a victim, whether or not anonymously, or where a person can go for a listening ear:
- Tele-onthaal on 106 is available to call at any time day or night. A phone call is completely anonymous and does not appear on the phone bill. It is also possible to chat anonymously with a Tele-Onthaal volunteer.
- 1712 is a professional helpline for anyone who has a question about violence, abuse and child cruelty. The helpline is available by phone Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 24 hours a day 7 days a week via email. The chat service is available from Monday to Thursday, between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. each day. The helpline is free and anonymous.
Are there any intimate images of the victim on the internet without the victim's consent for this? The Institute for the equality of women and men website has information on how to report this to an online platform.
On the Slachtofferzorg [Victim Support] and Sociale Kaart [Social Services Map] websites, it is possible to search within existing help and services for an appropriate referral according to the needs of the victim.
Belgium has ten Sexual Assault Centres
Below you will find the contact information for each Sexual Assault Centre.