Chat line for victims of sexual violence rolled out across Belgium

Summary

What started as a pilot project in the Ghent area to assist victims of rape and sexual violence in general is now available in three languages all around the country

Psychologists available

A pilot project to support victims of sexual violence started by Ghent University last year has now been rolled out across Belgium. Chat na seksueel geweld puts professionals in direct contact with victims via an online chat function.

The project was extended to the rest of the country today, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Reports of domestic violence, which often includes rape, have increased since the coronavirus crisis began, with people at home more often and spending much more time together than usual.

The university has launched the trilingual website and chat option together with the federal Institute for the Equality of Women and Men. “Our online chat is for everyone – men, women and those who identify otherwise,” Freeke Matthynssens of UGent’s health sciences department told VRT. “Via our website, anyone can chat with a psychologist. It is completely anonymous, which lowers the threshold. In the beginning, we were in contact mostly with people in and around Ghent, but now people from across the country are finding us.”

Some think they are victims but have trouble putting their problems into words

- Freeke Matthynssens

Besides victims who need to talk, the website is contacted by people with questions, such as what exactly is sexual violence and how do I file a complaint. “There are more and more questions because of corona,” says Matthynssens, “and so we received more funding and took on more personnel.”

The chat function is being used by all ages, by concerned friends and family and by women “who think they are victims but who have trouble putting their problems into words. Also, people who were already seeking help but whose sessions have been stopped due to the-lockdown are coming to us.”

The chat line is monitored by psychologists on Mondays and Thursdays from 18.00-22.00 and on Wednesdays from 14.00-17.00 and 18.00-22.00.

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