Start of the Leuven care centre after sexual violence

13 June 2022
On Wednesday 15 June the Leuven care centre after sexual violence (ZSG) will open at the Gasthuisberg campus. Victims of sexual violence can go there 24/7 for medical care, psychological support and forensic research. Anyone who wants to can lodg a complaint in the care centre.

24/7 medical-forensic care and psychological support for victims of sexual violence

Both adults and children are welcomed in the new Leuven care centre. Anyone who has had to deal with an assault or (attempted) rape can seek help there, also without having to lodge a complaint. A care centre after sexual violence (ZSG) is a multidisciplinary collaboration between a partnership between a hospital, the police and the public prosecutor. Victims of sexual violence can go there 24/7 for free medical-forensic care and psychological support.

Dr. Joke Wuestenbergs, forensic specialist at UZ Leuven and medical coordinator of the Leuven ZSG: “Until now, patients went to the emergency room for a trace investigation, after lodging a complaint. In the new centre you're also welcome for forensic, medical or psychological care when you're not sure you want to lodge a complaint. That is a big step forwards. By unlinking the forensic investigation from lodging a complaint, the victim has the time take an informed decision. This way we aim to reach more victims and to improve the low numbers of reports after sexual violence.”

Specialist training

The focus of the care centre is on victims of acute sexual violence: the first 7 days after the facts are important to be able to do qualitative trace analysis. This is necessary in case the victim wants to lodge a complaint. When a victim wants to lodge a complaint, a vice inspector will come on site to do an interview. But also if you need psychological support, legal help or medical follow-up after those 7 days, you are welcome in the ZSG. The care centre provides follow-up for victims after the first report: they will contact victims regularly to find out how they are doing and if necessary refer to other help services.

All care providers and vice inspectors had received specialist training to deal with victims of sexual violence. An important part is played by the psychologists. Special attention will go to minors, for whom safety and protection after a report are especially important. The ZSG will work closely together with the Vertrouwenscentrum Kindermishandeling (trust centre for child abuse).

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The fight against sexual violence

Both the police and the prosecutor's office have joined forces to select and train a team of motivated vice inspectors. They will be available around the clock for victims wanting to lodge a complaint. Together with the other partners, the necessary procedures and work processes were set up to ensure victims in the care centre after sexual violence get the necessary police and legal care, in addition to medical, psychosocial and forensic care.

Practical info

During the day, the Leuven ZSG can be contacted via the central reception hall of the Gasthuisberg campus and at night via the emergency room. Both victims of sexual violence and people close to them can contact the care centre 24/7. This is possible via telephone, mail, the emergency services or the police or by coming directly to the hospital. The Leuven ZSG is located on the Gasthuisberg campus of the hospital, yellow arrow, third floor. It is possible to call the ZSG at 016 341111 or mail to zsg@uzleuven.be. The location of the Leuven ZSG is temporary: by the end of 2022, the centre will find its permanent home in a specially designed department next to the ER.

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Some reactions at the opening of the Leuven ZSG

Mohamed Ridouani,
mayor of Leuven: “It is important for victims of sexual violence to get specialised physical and psychological care as soon as possible. The Leuven care centre can provide this in a safe and confidential environment. The centre can be contacted 24/7 and works together with the police and the Leuven public prosecutor's office.”

Sarah Schlitz, Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities: “Today we open the seventh care centre in our country, and 3 more will follow. Recent testimonies about sexual violence in the academic world have once again confronted us with the fact that there are still too many victims. The fight against sexual violence is the priority of the federal government. I wish to thank the many partners that contributed to this. The care centres are available 24/7, regardless of the victim's background. My message to victims out there is: People will listen to you here. Here you will receive help.”

Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health: "We're investing 11.7 million euro in the Care centres after Sexual Violence. Not only to offer the right care in an accessible manner, but also to be the central point of reference via the care centres, for victims and all other major players in such a story: police, public prosecutor, victim support, the attending physicians, youth care, etc. Tailor-made care in safe and secure surroundings, and especially at the victim's own pace. That is what we are doing now. Leuven is the seventh care centre we're opening. Next year, there will be another 3, making sure that the whole of Belgium can be covered."

Lies Corneillie, Leuven council for equal opportunities: “The past years, we have set up strong partnerships with the police, CAW Oost-Brabant and the Leuven prosecutor's office for handling family and sexual violence. We know that a lot of victims of sexual violence do not find the way to help. Opening this care centre has to lower that threshold. We see the centre as the axis in a wider partnership to prevent and handle sexual violence, in the same way that we set up an integrated approach for dealing with interfamily violence. Given the importance and the added value of this care centre for Leuven, the city will free up an additional 240,000 euro, on top of the federal means.”

Hans Van Espen, Crown prosecutor, prosecutor's office Leuven: “In a safe society, there is no room for sexual violence. The arrival of the care centre after sexual violence is an important step forward in the fight against sexual violence. The victim is immediately surrounded with all the necessary care and can lodge a complaint. A forensic nurse will take necessary samples, which are kept for at least six months. If the victim decides to lodge a complaint , immediately or later, an especially trained vice inspector will come in to interview the victim, creating a solid base for any further criminal investigation and criminal record, allowing us to bring more perpetrators of these serious crimes to court. We hope that this will lead to victims being more prepared to lodge complaints.”

Jan Spooren, provincial governor of Flemish-Brabant: “The operational start of the care centre after sexual violence (ZSG) at UZ Leuven is another positive step for victims for acute sexual violence. The new centre in Flemish-Brabant will provide victims of sexual violence with professional and specialised care and follow-up. The close partnership between medical and judicial departments, local and federal police, federal and Flemish governments and the multidisciplinary approach ensure that the centre will take the interests and the rights of the victims to heart, in the most efficient way. I'm pleased that the police school and the Provinciaal Instituut voor Vorming en Opleiding has currenly trained 36 vice inspectors (ZIP), who can employed in the ZSG.”

Walter Vranckx, chief officer of the Lubbeek police: “Victims of this type of serious crimes wanting to file a complaint, will be approached in a more professional and especially in a more emphatic manner by our trained vice inspectors. This can avoid the fear of not being believed or taken seriously. It is exactly the holistic approach of the ZSG and the professional framework that is necessary to lower the threshold for lodging a complaint. The unique partnership between assistance, police and the public prosecutor via these care centres will also allow to prosecute suspects in an easier way and the put the victim in a more central position in the legal procedure. The common working group also put together a manual so that anyone will be treated correctly, whether they end up in a care centre or not.”

Vincent Van Quickenborne, Minister of Justice: “This week there will be a final vote in the Chamber on my proposal for reforming sexual penal code. Penalising perpetrators of sexual violence is one thing. But the justice department needs to better assist victims of sexual violence. We often find that victims of sexual violence are scare to lodge a complaint. Or they don't know who to turn to. That is why we have our care centres after sexual violence, a place where everyone that has to deal with sexual violence is welcome. Victims will get personalised help: going from medical care, to psychological support, to lodging a complaint. With this new centre, we make sure that victims get adequate help quick. Care centres such as these can also take samples. This is crucial for quickly gathering evidence before it is too late. When victims come to a care centre, the willingness to lodge a complaint increases with 70%.”

Annelies Verlinden, Minister of Internal Affairs: Victims of sexual violence have to be able to rely on the fact they will be welcomed and assisted in a professional manner. In the care centres after sexual violence we create a safe environment. Thanks to their specialist training, vice inspectors really make the difference. Victims have to feel they're understood and safe when they're with the police and the other aid workers."

Last edit: 1 July 2022