European Network on Victims' Rights
BELGIUM – Specific measures during COVID-19 crisis


BELGIUM – Specific measures during COVID-19 crisis

1) Good practices on communication with victims and crime reporting  

  • While for non-urgent matters declaration is made online or with an appointment, police services still come to the spot in case of emergency of urgent interventions, for facts that require certain observations or where the perpetrators are still present + communication via different channels on how to report during the pandemic.
  • For victims of domestic violence, local police services also contacted the various associations involved in domestic violence on the territory to let them know that victims should not hesitate to go to the police.
  • For victims of domestic violence, the use of a new tool (received from the UK) which may assist in postponed hearings. In times of COVID-19, it is possible to postpone hearings (for various reasons). In order to guarantee that none of the facts and the memory would be lost, this tool could be used. This tool is being translated into the Belgian context by the Federal Police Department of Behavioral Sciences and should be ready soon.

2) Good practices on organisation of support and protection

  • For all victims, the regular services of judicial victim support and victim support are not interrupted during the pandemic. Assistance and help, however, are now given by phone, mail or written information, if necessary, videoconference is also possible.
  • In particular for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence:
    • all involved actors (police services, sexual assault referral centres, judicial victim support services, victims associations, family justice centres, etc.) proactively contacted ‘known’ victims by their services to ensure their follow-up and provided for regulations on how to re-contact the victim, in a victims safe manner
    • Enlargement of the contacts with victims by phone and videoconference
    • Increasing opening hours and availability of chats and helplines
    • Increasing available places in shelters (and communication about in the press)
    • Involvement of the civil society via a.o.: in collaboration with the hotel sector, extra safe places were created in hotels for victims of domestic violence, in collaboration with the pharmacists organisations, the victim’s support organisations organised the mentioning of a ‘code-word’, namely ‘mask 19’. Pharmacists receiving a command for a ‘mask 19’ received instructions on how to handle and how to contact victims’ organisation to help these victims in a safe manner (see poster via this link).
    • Strengthening of the helplines on domestic violence 1712 (www.1712.be) and 0800 30 030 (www.ecouteviolencesconjugales.be); on sexual violence (The chat team of the Federal Sexual Assault Referral Centers (http://www.seksueelgeweld.be of www.violencessexuelles.be), 0800 98 100 (www.sosviol.be), the Flemish chat ‘Nu praat ik erover’ (www.nupraatikerover.be) for online support to children and youngsters victims of sexual violence; and of the generalist helplines Tele-Onthaal (www.tele-onthaal.be) and Awel (www.awel.be), Télé-accueil (www.tele-accueil.be) and Ecoute-enfants (www.103ecoute.be) and Telefonhilfe (http://www.telefonhilfe.be/home/).
    • Regular monitoring of these helplines  to be able to respond quickly to demand and to make adjustments if necessary
  • For victims of cybercrime: the official website https://www.safeonweb.be/actueel of the Centre for Cybersecurity Belgium launched several warnings against misinformation on COVID-19, the spread of viruses and ransomware, false web shops, phishing etc. Preventive measures were explained and the population was called on to report suspicious messages to the Centre via the generic email address verdacht@safeonweb.be. Those messages were also taken up regularly as news items, on the websites of the police forces etc.
  • For victims of hate crimes:
    • the national equality body Unia has elaborated a document, addressed to victims of potential hate crime or discrimination, related to the COVID-19 crisis. In this information sheet, Unia provides some very targeted information to victims about the existing legislation, which steps they can take in a particular situation, if certain behaviour is not according the existing legislation etc.
    • Several local police zones, reinforced community policing, and maintained very close ties with different communities:

Local police zone, Antwerp

By being very active and present on a daily basis, the local police zone of Antwerp wants to keep the threshold for victims of hate crimes (or other incidents) as small as possible. They have established many proactive measures in order to prevent certain incidents, and they assured they could react very quickly in case of incidents. The local police zone of Antwerp developed inter alia the following initiatives:

Faith communities: places of worship and other locations are regularly visited to maintain dialogue. Police works closely together with other colleagues (INTEL and public order) to assure a good internal flow of information and to be able to respond quickly to specific trends.

LGBTI+ community: police reach out to these communities via civil society (“The Pink House in Antwerp), and they assure their electronic presence via video-call or e-mail.

Black-African community: police reached out to this community at the beginning of the crisis. They reported no incidents, but maintain close ties with them.

For more information, there is a podcast on the work of the local police zone of Antwerp during the COVID-19 crisis: https://soundcloud.com/user-487597849/podcast-4-politiezone-antwerpen-tijdens-de-covid-19-crisis.

Local police zone, Charleroi

The local police zone of Charleroi organizes regular visits to the representatives of the Mosque in Charleroi, in order to maintain dialogue. Also, in every shift in each district there is the presence of a police officer who is familiar with handling hate crime cases, in order to maintain specific attention to this issue.


3) Other good practices

For the victims of domestic violence:

  • Swift creation of task forces to align the actions and to assure that domestic violence is an even higher priority for all the actors involved (police, prosecution, judges, help sector) – taking into account the specific daily life conditions caused by the measures of the pandemic.
  • The organization of broad information campaigns, on a regular basis and via different channels, on the available offer for victims of domestic violence to make them aware that help is available and that they are comforted and reassured that they can seek help in a safe manner.
  • Creation of special pages on the websites on the specific measures to help victims of domestic violence during the pandemic, e.g. (www.slachtofferzorg.be/coronavirus, victimes.be: http://www.victimes.cfwb.be/professionnels0/covid-19-liens-utiles/ and http://www.ostbelgienlive.be/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-71/211_read-60142/)
  • Regular campaigns via different channels to be able to reach as much as possible the large public, e.g.:
    • Posters to remind everyone that support services remain available during this period of confinement (link)
    • Domestic violence awareness spot (link) (notably visible via the general website victimes.be, the website of the Walloon Region, the website of the ‘Direction Egalité des chances’ of the French Community and via other websites and via a regular diffusion on television, radio, internet and social media)
    • The help-line 1712 developed a poster with tips on how to prevent the escalation of family violence and mentions helpline 1712 and the most important emergency numbers (link)
    • The help-line 1712 launched a campaign ‘Afraid to stay home?’ (Bang om in uw kot te blijven?). With this campaign, the helpline wants to encourage people to contact them if they have questions about domestic violence. A spot (link) runs for several weeks on social media and in addition, campaign posters (link) are distributed through various channels.

4) Additional information

Belgian measures to fight violence on women and domestic violence in the Corona-confinement

Holistic answer

  • An Inter-ministerial Conference which gathers all competent ministers of the federal and federate states has taken place, on the topic of “Violence against Women and Quarantine Measures”. It discussed the government measures which are currently in place to deal with partner violence now that women have a higher risk of partner violence since they have to stay at home because of the corona crisis.
  • The Brussels and Walloon governments[1] have created a Task Force “Woman and domestic violence” in reaction to the higher risk of violence caused by the confinement-measures which are taken to fight the Corona-virus. The purpose of this Task Force is:
    • to monitor the situation of shelter and assistance infrastructures in partnership with the actors in the field, as well as to identify the needs and emergencies that arise in order to respond quickly and effectively;
    • to spread information, new and specific sensitization campaign and make all stakeholders involved aware of the problem.
  • The Federal Sexual Assault Referral Centres remain open and operational, 24/24 and 7/7. The frequency of conversations with citizens has increased for they are called proactively by the centers.
  • In Flanders, the Family Justice Centres (FJC) and the chain approach (Ketenaanpak) remain operational. The FJC and chain approach proactively contacted the persons involved in the current cases and always kept a finger on the pulse.

[1] Gouvernement francophone bruxellois, Gouvernement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, Gouvernement de la Wallonie, Gouvernement de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles.


Police

Police forces were made aware of the problem and they have increased their vigilance.

  • While for non-urgent matters, declaration is made online or with an appointment, police services still come to the spot in case of emergency of urgent interventions, for facts that require certain observations or where the perpetrators are still present.
  • The use of a new tool (received from the UK) which may assist in postponed hearings. In times of corona it is possible to postpone hearings (for various reasons). In order to guarantee that none of the facts and the memory of this would be lost, this tool could be used. This tool is being translated into the Belgian context by the Federal Police Department of Behavioral Sciences and should be ready soon.
  • Some local police services, through their victim assistance service, proactively contact people who have filed a complaint at the police station over the past three months concerning acts of domestic violence. This way, the evolution of their situation in quarantine can be monitored. They also contact the various associations involved in domestic violence on the territory to let them know that victims should not hesitate to go to the police.

Justice

  • A Task Force has been established within the Public Prosecutor’s Office to centralize all questions and problems related to the Corona measures.
  • The Public Prosecutor’s Office has officially declared that the guidelines concerning domestic violence remain fully applicable.
  • Domestic violence remains a priority : urgent matters should be dealt quickly. There is an increased awareness among the magistrates and public prosecutors to pay even more attention to this issue.
  • Urgent hearings will continue to be guaranteed, and temporary preventive measures like an eviction can still be imposed by the Prosecutor.

Social affairs and social care

  • A Social Urgency Task Force has been put in place with the aim of analyzing the situation of vulnerable persons, providing permanent monitoring and proposing policy measures. The Institute for the Equality of Women and Men participates in this task force. 
  • Several measures have been taken to facilitate the combination of teleworking and childcare, for example:
    • Promoting existing leave systems (time credit, parental leave);
    • The introduction of an exceptional parental leave for the care of children under 12 (or with disabilities) in order to respond to the difficulties linked to the reconciliation of childcare and teleworking and for parents forced to work outside the home;
    • More flexible arrangements for the short term, in particular for parents with kids, parents with children with a disability.
  • Maintenance obligations in respect to children (SECAL): women (often single-parent families) depend on – the maintenance obligation from the father but due to a loss of income in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, the father can no longer fulfil his obligation to pay. The government decided to establish a system of automatic payment.
  • The abortion centers and Planned Parenthood health Center remain open and operational.  It is possible to provide electronic prescriptions for contraception and morning after pill.
  • Electronic prescriptions are possible and doctors can conduct tele-consultations when physical contact is not advisable.
  • The provision of psychological help has been expanded for persons under 18 and over 65.

Assistance and sensitization

For example :

  • Campaign in the Flemish community :
    • The help-line 1712 developed a poster with tips on how to prevent the escalation of family violence and mentions helpline 1712 and the most important emergency numbers (link)
    • The help-line 1712 launched a campaign ‘Afraid to stay home?’ (Bang om in uw kot te blijven?). With this campaign, the helpline wants to encourage people to contact them if they have questions about domestic violence.
    • A spot (link) runs for several weeks on social media and in addition, campaign posters (link) are distributed through various channels.
  • The domestic and sexual violence services report that they will continue to provide service and assistance. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the services offered are taking a different form, which means that online and telephone conversations can be held but some of them remains open and operational for emergencies.
  • Shelters remain open and operational, they manage some temporary centers who have opened to increase available places and apply distancing schemes and offering quarantine for infected victims. So Wallonia and COCOF has strengthened the reception system for victims of domestic violence by providing some 150 new places with psycho-social support. In Flanders, a temporary center with a capacity of 50 places is provided for victims of domestic violence as well as extra capacity that is provided by some local governments. Assistance is provided on the spot, in these temporary centers.
  • The Houses of Justice actively contact victims (via more specifically the judicial Victim Support service) and perpetrators in domestic violence cases, by telephone or video conference, to inquire about the situation and to ensure follow-up. In addition, the judicial victim support services remain also accessible to all victims by phone and mail.
  • The “generalist” victim support services (social and psychological help for victims of any crime) remain accessible (telephone and video conferencing) and have a special focus on victims of domestic violence in this period of confinement. These services have generally reinforced their permanencies in order to be able to respond to a possible increase of demands and maintain contact as far as possible with victims of domestic violence who were already consulting them before the confinement.
  • Other initiatives, sometimes locally, are taken:
    • For example, the Social Welfare Centre of the city of Mons has set up the collaboration “Talk to your pharmacist” to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence during the period of confinement.  It enables all pharmacists of the 19 municipalities of Mons to become valuable intermediaries between the victims and the Public Welfare Center for Intra-Family Violence of the City of Mons.
    • In Flanders, a victim of domestic violence can ask for a ‘mask 19′ at the pharmacist (see poster via this link). The pharmacist answers that this type of masks must be ordered and asks the victim for her/his contact details. The pharmacist then contacts the Centre for General Welfare (CAW) via helpline 1712, who will get in contact with the victim. In the event of imminent danger to life, it is advisable to contact the police.
  • The helplines / help chats have been strengthened and are regularly monitored to be able to respond quickly to demand. It can be adjusted if necessary.
    • Domestic violence :
      • 1712 (www.1712.be), the Flemish help line, informs its employees on ways to be of better assistance to the victims, for example by agreeing on code words and giving instructions on how to thoroughly delete calls or chat conversations afterwards. The competent Minister has provided extra budget (140K euros) to guarantee this service. The 1712 help line increased the opening hours and availability of the chat and the helpline. They also launched a campaign about domestic violence during the Corona-crisis.
      • 0800 30 030 (www.ecouteviolencesconjugales.be), the French-speaking line dedicated to domestic violence has doubled the number of respondents, set up a third simultaneous listening station, increased the hours and availability of the chat (50 hours per week) and set up a system if necessary for lifting anonymity.
    • Sexual violence:
      • The chat team of the Federal Sexual Assault Referral Centers (http://www.seksueelgeweld.be of www.violencessexuelles.be) has already written out various scenarios to quickly scale up the chat with extra people if this becomes necessary. They also haven’t noticed a significant increase up until now.
      • 0800 98 100 (www.sosviol.be), the French-speaking SOS rape line maintained its listening service as well as online psychological follow-up, social and legal assistance.
      • The Flemish chat ‘Nu praat ik erover’ (www.nupraatikerover.be) provides online support to children and youngster who are victim of (sexual) violence. The chat remains open and increased its opening hours.
      • The Flemish helpline ‘Stop it now!’ (stopitnow.be) offers support to people who are worried about their own sexual preferences or behavior towards minors and people who are worried about the preferences and behavior of someone close to them. Stop it now! remains available by chat, telephone and e-mail.
    • Generalist helplines : Tele-Onthaal (www.tele-onthaal.be) and Awel (www.awel.be) (in the Flemish Community) and Télé-accueil (www.tele-accueil.be), Ecoute-enfants (www.103ecoute.be) (in the French Community) and Telefonhilfe (http://www.telefonhilfe.be/home/) for the German speaking Community are available online or by telephone to people who need a listening ear. When needed, these helplines refer people to specialized organizations and helplines.
  • On the websites for victims of the Communities, a specific page about COVID-19 was set up providing information about different topics regarding the COVID-19 crisis, including domestic violence during the Corona-crisis (www.slachtofferzorg.be/coronavirus, http://www.victimes.cfwb.be/professionnels0/covid-19-liens-utiles/ and http://www.ostbelgienlive.be/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-71/211_read-60142/).

Survey

  • In the weekly national health survey launched since the COVID -19 national measures, questions will be asked on domestic violence.
  • On the initiative of the University of Ghent, a short national survey will be conducted in four languages (French, Dutch, German and English) on domestic violence and sexual violence since the COVID-19 measures. Participants, all over Belgium, will be asked if they want to participate in a monthly follow-up so that the longer-term effects can also be monitored.
  • On the initiative of the University of Liège and in collaboration with a Swiss and French university, a study was launched on the impact of COVID-19 measures on the well-being and violence between partners, both among young people (from 12 years old) than adults.
  • A study on the different impact of the Corona policy measures on men and women is being conducted by the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men and is expected within a few weeks.