At De Groote – De Man, we understand the emotional and legal challenges faced by victims of sexual offenses in Belgium. Additionally, we know how to navigate the complex Belgian legal system. Our dedicated team of criminal lawyers is ready to support victims in seeking justice and rebuilding their lives. We believe in the power of listening to the voices of victims and helping them share their stories. A lawyer represents the words of the client. Through a combination of legal expertise and empathy, we strive to guide victims on their journey toward justice and recovery.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a global social and legal issue, occurring regrettably on a daily basis. Research shows that approximately 64% of the Belgian population between the ages of 16 and 69 have experienced some form of sexual violence. Sexual assault affects people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and legal statuses.

Sexual assault encompasses any form of unwanted sexual contact. An act or activity is considered ‘sexual violence’ when:

  • it occurs without consent
  • there is coercion
  • the partners are not equals.

Within a relationship or marriage is sexual assaul also punishable.

The following offenses, among others, fall under the category of sexual crimes: violation of sexual integrity, voyeurism, non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit content, rape… It is important to note that physical contact is not always necessary for an act to be considered a sexual offense.

A basic offense may be coupled with an aggravating circumstance. Examples of aggravating circumstances include:

  • the perpetrator is close to the victim
  • the victim’s vulnerable condition
  • the victim was younger than 16 years old or between the ages of 16 and 18 years old
  • the victim’s death as a result of the acts.

Since the introduction of the new sexual criminal law, effective June 1, 2022, sexual offenses are punishable under Article 417/5 and subsequent articles of the Criminal Code.

Steps in the pursuit of justice

Below are some important legal and non-legal steps that victims can take:

  1. Seek (professional) help and support:This may include medical care, mental health care, and talking to a trusted person. In Belgium, there are various services where victims can seek information, support, and guidance. Such services help victims understand their rights, advise them on possible next steps, and provide emotional support. Examples include victim support from CAW or the Victim Reception Service at the Justice Houses. Additionally, there is the Care Center after Sexual Assault (ZSG), which will be further discussed.
  2. Consult a specialized lawyer: It is essential to consult a lawyer who specializes in sexual criminal law. The lawyers at DGDM have the expertise to guide and advise you on your rights and options. We outline all scenarios and seek the solution that best fits your needs. Whether we proceed to a legal procedure together is entirely up to you.
  3. Report the sexual assault: If you wish to report incidents of sexual violence as a victim, we can assist you. We explain in detail what you can expect, the consequences of filing a report, and accompany you to the police. The sooner you go to the police, the better. The police will collect evidence that may be crucial during the procedure.
    During the legal process, you can make your voice heard and seek compensation, which can include reimbursement of medical expenses and compensation for moral damages.

    Did you know you are not required to be present at the hearing? Our lawyers can represent you.

  4. Aftercare and support: Both the lead-up to and the aftermath of a trial are emotionally taxing. We continue to provide the necessary care and support after the procedure to ensure the awarded compensation reaches you as quickly as possible.

The position of the victim

The legislature prioritizes optimal protection for victims of sexual assault. The reform of sexual criminal law increases the protection of minors and centers victims. The fact that the victim plays a role is evident in the opportunity for victims to make their voices heard and take certain steps.

Within the Belgian legal system, victims have specific rights. They can use various services and procedures to ensure their chances of justice. It is not only important to hold the perpetrator accountable but also to experience a sense of justice and regain control of their lives.

There is also recognition of the personal and unique recovery process of victims. Besides the legal aspect, there is a need for emotional support and therapy to process the trauma and move forward. Together with the victim, we seek professional help that best suits their needs.

A lawyer plays an invaluable role. Not only as a legal representative to protect the victim’s rights but also as an essential source of support and guidance. As a law firm, we understand that victim support is not only about the legal process. It is also about creating a safe environment where victims can share their stories.

Care Center after sexual assault

The importance of seeking help immediately after becoming a victim of sexual assault cannot be underestimated. However, due to the impact of the traumatic event, seeking help can sometimes be very difficult. As a victim, do not blame yourself for seeking help later.

One place where victims of sexual assault can turn to is the Care Center after Sexual Violence (ZSG). The care center provides free multidisciplinary assistance to victims of sexual assault and advises their support figures. In 2022, 3,287 victims registered.

As of 2023, there are already 9 centers in Belgium. The ZSG should be seen as a low-threshold initiative that welcomes everyone at any time. As a victim, you can approach the ZSG on your initiative or with the help of the police. The ZSG is focused on acute hands-on sexual assault, meaning sexual assault that occurred less than a month ago. Naturally, those who became victims more than a month ago are also welcome.

Confidentiality is central here. The staff of the center works with the victim to determine what help they need and assist in choosing the actions the person wants to take.

The care offered by a ZSG includes both psychological and medical care. Additionally, with the victim’s consent, a forensic examination can be conducted to document injuries and look for traces of the perpetrator.

The existence of the ZSGs is proving effective. Increased awareness is significantly lowering the threshold for reporting to a ZSG. Therefore, we, the experts at DGDM, strongly recommend contacting a ZSG.

What not to do as a victim?

Every victim reacts differently to a traumatic experience. Some withdraw while others need a listening ear. However, the impact of such an event on the victim’s environment should not be underestimated. Some may feel anger and be tempted to take matters into their own hands, which carries various risks. First, an individual reaction can jeopardize police and judicial work. The perpetrator may become aware of an ongoing investigation, potentially destroying evidence. Second, the individual risks committing punishable acts themselves and being prosecuted.

We emphasize that neither a victim nor their environment should take matters into their own hands. It is better to seek the help of a lawyer who can expertly guide the victim along the right path.

The financial aspect

If you are concerned about the financial side of the situation, we advise you to contact your family insurance. You can check whether your insurance covers the fees of a lawyer. This means you would not need to pay your lawyer yourself, as your insurance would cover it.

Do you have questions or need a lawyer and legal assistance? Let us assist you in your quest for justice.

Contact the experts at DGDM.