Belgian innovative projects and instruments to reach a more effective approach on domestic violence

date: 05 March 2013

5 March 2013, Side-event co-hosted by the European Union: intervention by H.E. Mrs. Joëlle Milquet, Vice Prime Minister

Belgian innovative projects and instruments to reach a more effective approach on domestic violence

1. Introduction

First of all, I would like to thank the EU for hosting this very important side-event with a focus on domestic violence and violence within the family.

Combating domestic violence has been a priority for Belgium since many years. Belgium has an advanced legislation on combating domestic violence, and we are taking new initiatives regularly to ensure that this legislation is transferred to the everyday life of many women. However, we still have a long road ahead of us, and we have to keep taking measures to really make a difference in the lives of those who have been beaten and violated behind closed doors. We have to make a life free from violence a reality and try to think of new ways and new initiatives until we’ve found the one that really works.

2. Gender inequality

Violence against women is a clear violation of human rights, rooted in unequal power relations between women and men. Domestic violence takes place in a society where discrimination against women remains a daily reality: discrimination, insults and sexism on the streets, discrimination in the work place, the glass ceiling, pay gap, lack of women in high positions, …Violence against women feeds off this daily discrimination and serves to reinforce it.It is the most extreme manifestation of discrimination against women.

Violence against women is not a private problem. It is the problem of society as a whole. And only society can stop these violations. We have the obligation as a government to collaborate to fight against violence against all women. Any woman. Every woman.

3. Multisectorial approach to domestic violence

As domestic violence is a complex issue, there exists no easy all-in-one solution. Progress can only be made with combined efforts. To end domestic violence, a holistic approach is needed. One that tackles the whole problem from multiple angles, applying a multitude of strategies, and involving all stakeholders and institutions.

This means that one institution or government agency can’t tackle this issue alone, and can’t address the full range of problems.

That’s why in Belgium, we are focusing, through our national action plan, at national, regional and local level on a multi-agency collaboration addressing this multidimensional and complex issue.
Belgium installed a specific national coordinating body to coordinate, monitor and evaluate all these policies and actions in strong collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders: governments, departments, civil society, social services and other experts. This body can also improve the exchange of information and the integral intervention between governments and departments.
In addition, this action plan tackles the entire family. It takes an all-inclusive family approach: victim – perpetrator and children.And it does not stop there. It tackles all violence within the family, including female genital mutilation, forced and child marriages, and so-called honor crimes.

4. Concrete actions

4.1 Innovative new laws

All new legal measures in Belgium are focusing on the responsibility of society to stop violence against women and to ensure a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach.

This is why we recently launched two newlaws and directives on domestic violence, that empower the society to stop domestic violence and to protect the victim in a very early stage.

a) New protective order

The new protective order for example, empowers the police and the justice department to issue an immediate order to ban the perpetrator from his house, even before a crime is committed. It protects potential victims when they are in great immediate possible danger. To stop violence from happening in the future, a collaboration with aid services for the perpetrator and aid services for the victim are installed immediately.

b) Disclosure law

A second recent initiative gives first line healthcare professionals like gynaecologists and general practitionars the possibility to disclose all forms of domestic violence, including intimidate partner violence, to the justice department in order to stop this violence and to protect the victims. This discloser order can also be used in a preventive way in order to protect new potential victims. This is actually a scoop because, the disclosure order just became law last Friday, on the first of March.

4.2 Innovative new field projects

Belgium also launched several new innovative local pilot projects on domestic violence and violence within the family.

In one project social services for perpetrators and social services for victims are closely working together. With this unique collaboration, both services canbuild up the best possible long term care-solution to stop violence and to help both victim as perpetrator.

Another new project, in one of the biggest cities of Belgium, has installed a complete integral collaboration between all sectors involved.

This initiativeis based upon the principle idea that it should not be the victim herself who should seek for help and assistance, but that all aid and legal services involved should reach out to the victim.

As domestic violence is such a complex issue, one service alone can’t offer the solution to stop violence from happening.

Therefore, this project is housingpolice, justice department and social services in the same building to create a physical environment where they can work together on cases of domestic violence, in order to offer integrated and adequate help and care.

This team works on a case-by-case basis and through a case management system. When a case of domestic violence is reported, this team will use a special developed risk assessment tool upon which a specific tailored interdisciplinary action plan can be developed. Every case gets appointed one case manager, who coordinates all services and actions.

All services involved are sharing all the necessary information on a special new developed electronic information sharing platform. The victims don’t have to tell their story several times to different people and services, don’t have to knock on several doors and don’t receive different uncoordinated assistance from different angels.

Thus, a multi-agency team is offering all the help and assistance in a coordinated way to stop violence and to seek long term assistance for the multiple challenges faced by victims and their families.

5. Conclusion

But Belgium will not stop here though: on the 11th of September 2011, Belgium has signed the Convention of the Council of Europe (Convention of Istanbul) on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. As we are in the process of ratification, we will intensify our measures against domestic violence with strong political will, in line with the clauses of this Convention.

Domestic violence is a violation of a women’s right to physical integrity, to liberty, and all too often, to her right to life itself. When states fail to take the basic steps needed to protect women from domestic violence or allow these crimes to be committed with impunity, states are failing in their obligation to protect women from torture.