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Minister wants system to report rape online following incident in Ghent
Federal justice minister Annelies Verlinden (pictured) said that she would like to see a system be put in place to allow women and girls to report a rape online. Her statement follows the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in Ghent last month that has shocked the country.
The girl from Gavere, south of Ghent, had agreed to meet a teenage boy at a cemetery in the city. This is not as unusual as it sounds; the historical Westerbergraafplaats cemetery is a huge and lovely place, with walkers and cyclists often seen on the paths.
The girl, who has not been identified, arrived to find four other boys with him, ranging in age from 15 to 19. She was allegedly raped by all five of the teenagers.
The suspects filmed the event with a mobile phone and released it on the internet. A few days later, the girl committed suicide. Only then did her parents discover what had happened; their daughter had not told them about the assault.
200 gang rapes a year reported
The incident has sent shockwaves through Ghent and the rest of the country. This week, an investigation by VRT revealed that rape videos are routinely shared by young men on digital messaging service Telegram. There were specific requests to see this video.
All five who were involved in the alleged rape are in custody. Three are minors and are being held in youth detention centres, while the other two remain in custody awaiting a hearing.
“We need to lower the threshold as much as possible so that victims feel they can take the step to filing a report,” said Verlinden on Radio 1 this morning. “We need to see how victims can more easily contact the police, for instance with an online report so that they do not have to present themselves in person. I am personally in favour of such a system.”
According to figures, only one in 10 rapes or other sexual assaults are reported to police. Some 2% of women and girls in Belgium report a rape or sexual assault every year. “That’s about 80,000 women, but we have long known that not every incident is reported. A very huge number.”
Stevens says that about 200 gang rapes are reported every year, “but I would be very surprised if there were not more”. She also pointed out that gang rapists film the event and threaten to release the video online if the victim reports the rape. “They use it as leverage,” said Stevens, “in order to convince the victim not to go to the police.”
Photo ©Dirk Waem/BELGA