Crime Victims – Belgium

1. Before Reporting to the Police
2. Making a Police Statement
3. Initiation of Legal Proceedings
4. Court Proceedings
5. After the Verdict

1. Before Reporting to the Police

A. Consult a Counsel!

If a sex worker is a victim of trafficking in women, the police may be interested in her statements as a victim or as a witness – for instance against perpetrators of trafficking in women, or against persons who have brought her into the country or to whom she has had to give part of her earnings.

However, women who work as sex workers without the appropriate residence permits are committing an offence (“misdrijf“) (for further information on possibilities for legally entering and staying in Belgium, see the sections on . In this case, the woman is – as far as the police is concerned – both the victim of a crime (human trafficking) and the accused (because of contravening, inter alia, the law on aliens, the laws on the employment of foreign workers, or the laws on independent economic activity by foreigners).

In practice:
If a woman has committed crimes caused by her vulnerable situation due to exploitation, trafficking etc., the police and prosecution service are mostly interested in catching the criminals, to stop organised crime such as human trafficking. Therefore no victim should hesitate to go to the police. In jurisprudence, there are some cases known in which the victim was also convicted, but only for crimes which were not connected with their situation of exploitation (e.g. theft, drugs etc.).
In some cities specialised or general advisory centres exist where migrant prostitutes can inform themselves about the legal system, psychological assistance, health issues etc. Advisory centres will not forward information regarding the woman, her name and address to the police or aliens authorities.

B. Confidential Legal Advice

Advisory Centres can advise the woman and arrange contact with specialist lawyers. The services of advisory centres are free of charge. In most cities there is a “bureau for legal assistance” (“bureau voor rechtsbijstand“) which is a bureau of the local Bar Association that offers free advice by lawyers. Normally you can find it in the local judiciary office, or ask for the correct address.

C. Confidential Medical Examination

Advisory Centres also have addresses of clinics where the woman can go for a confidential medical examination so that injuries and traces may be documented. This means that if the physician and the OCMW agree, evidence of the deed is recorded and the woman has time to think about whether or not she wishes to report the crime. OCMW: ”public centre for general welfare” (“Openbaar Centrum voor Maatschappelijk Welzijn“), which is a local, communal authority, nominated by the town council, that decides on welfare for people that are not entitled to any other kind of welfare.)

D. Police and Justice Prejudices against Prostitutes

Prejudice against prostitutes/sex workers in the police or the judiciary are very rare nowadays. Usually, violent and/or sexual crimes against sex workers are investigated, even though it is not easy to prove such crimes. In many cities ( e.g. Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent) there are specialised police units for sexual crimes with female police officers.

In addition, the woman may always say that she would rather speak with a female officer.

E. Trafficking in Women

1. Trafficking in Women is….
  • when the woman is actively encouraged by deception – through false promises regarding work possibilities and earnings – to come to Belgium, regardless of whether a job in another field was promised to her or whether she was willing to work in prostitution;
  • when a sex worker’s identity papers or earnings are taken away from her;
  • the use of any other kind of coercion;
  • when a woman is forced into prostitution or into giving sexual services;
  • when a sex worker is blackmailed, threatened, humiliated, beaten, raped or imprisoned;
  • when one abuses the particularly vulnerable position of a foreigner (vulnerable due to an illegal or precarious administrative condition, or due to her being under age, or due to pregnancy).The name of the criminal offence in Belgian Law is Trafficking in Human Beings (“mensenhandel“). Prosecution of human trafficking has been possible since the law of April 13, 1995 entered into force. It inserted and changed several regulations in other laws.In the above instances it is irrelevant whether the woman previously worked as a sex worker or whether she was willing to work as a sex worker – if one of the circumstances – as specified in jurisprudence – applies to the woman’s situation, she regularly is a victim of trafficking.
2. Special Rights for Victims of Trafficking

Victims of trafficking in women have special rights and are entitled to special support services.

Phase 1:
If a foreigner is apparently a victim of human trafficking, and was found by the authorities (police, social inspection, prosecution service …) or a third party (individuals, NGO‘s etc.) they have to inform one of the three recognised centres for assistance of victims of human trafficking. The centres inform the apparent victim about her rights and possibilities. If she wants to think everything over before making a decision/a statement, she will receive a 45 days order to leave Belgium and the Schengen area . This is called the reflection period. One of the main conditions is that she break with her environment of exploitation and accept the assistance of a specialised centre.

In practice
A reflection period is not so frequently used anymore, because most victims make declarations and testify right in the beginning.

Phase 2:
After she made a report/a statement, the supposed victim will

  • receive a declaration of arrival (“aankomstverklaring”) for 3 months
  • after one prolongation of this declaration of arrival an inscription in the register of foreigners (BIVR) which is valid for six months.With both these documents, she is allowed to work with a work permit C. The document will be prolonged as long as the conditions (co-operation with the judicial authorities and no contact with the environment of exploitation) are fulfilled and as long as the investigation is going on.She will also
  • receive social welfare,
  • have a right to education,
  • have a right to legal and psychological assistance.

Phase 3:
When the judicial investigation is finished and the case is going to court, a victim of trafficking in human beings has the right to be represented by a lawyer. Once the perpetrators are convicted there is a possibility that the victim can stay for an undefined period.

If the prosecution service closes the investigation – for instance, because they cannot find the suspects, lack of proof etc. – the apparent victim will receive no more documents and has to leave the country.

Please note:
This procedure is a criminal policy instrument and is created to tackle organised crime such as trafficking in human beings. It was not created to help victims, even though in practice it does help many victims to create a normal life.

2. Making a Police Statement

The police requires the woman to make a statement in the police station as a victim/witness – for instance against the perpetrators of trafficking in women (e.g. against persons who brought her into the country, to whom she had to give her earnings or a part of it etc).
Please note:
If the woman is suspected of having committed a crime in another matter (e.g. theft, fraud etc.) she can be also be accused. Whether this happens depends on the criminal prosecution policy and on the kind of crime. For details concerning this problem see section prosecution.

A. Obligation to Testify

A witness is obliged to tell the complete truth when questioned under oath. In general this will be while questioned by the examining magistrate (the royal prosecutor or a judge of instruction). In Belgium the majority of the jurisprudence agrees that false testimony under oath before an examining magistrate is not a criminal offence. Moreover, the suspect, minors under 15 years old and some close relatives of the suspect cannot be questioned under oath.

Belgian law does not allow a witness to refuse to make a statement in order not to incriminate herself. The witness is committing a criminal offence if she makes a false declaration in order to put the blame on someone else. Giving false testimony (meaning a declaration not under oath) is also punishable (but close relatives who made their false declaration in favour of an accused relative are exempted from prosecution).

B. Female Officer

The witness may ask to be questioned by a female officer. In general a female officer will do the questioning without this being asked for in any case. The witness is not entitled to insist on the presence of a female officer, though.

C. Translator

She is entitled to the services of a translator in her own language. If she feels unable to trust the translator, she does not have the right to refuse him/her. But if she mentions her distrust that distrust will have to be noted in her statement, and the police/judge will usually arrange for another translator. She is not obliged to give an explicit explanation for her distrust, but it is advisable to do so.

D. Lawyer

She is not entitled to the presence of her lawyer at the questioning. Nevertheless, she should ask for a lawyer to be present, but in general that request will not be fulfilled. Some police officers allow the victim to speak to her lawyer through the phone, but it is not advisable to do this, because it can harm the “colloque singulier” between the client and his lawyer.
Hint: Memorise a lawyer’s telephone number!

E. Trusted Person

She may ask for the presence of a trusted person (e.g. a female friend or advisor) at questioning. Some police officers make no objection, others will refuse. Minors that are victims of sexual violence are always allowed to be accompanied by a trusted, trustworthy person of their own choice.

If the police has any doubt about whether or not the person they question is a victim of trafficking of human beings: the specialised advisory centre will have the opportunity to get in touch with this person. This can be realised, if the person agrees, by inviting a member of the special advisory centre’s staff to the police station.

F. No Custody

As a witness, the woman may not be held in police custody. She may be detained if she is simultaneously an accused party – e.g. if she has no residence papers or for another crime or offence (see section prosecution. She can be held in administrative arrest limited to 6, 12 or 24 hours (e.g. to verify identity, body search for dangerous objects or weapons, prevent disturbance of public order during her questioning or her statement).

G. Special Rights for Trafficked Women


If the woman’s statement or other evidence leads the police to believe that she may have been a victim of trafficking in women, she has special rights. The police is obliged to inform her about her special rights and has to direct her to one of the specialised advisory centres.

1. No Consideration Period

If the woman is a victim of trafficking and does not hold a residence permit, and has not yet made a statement she can receive an order to leave Belgium and Schengen territory  (“bevel om het grondgebied te verlaten“). This order is also a temporary residence permit for 45 days. During this period she can decide whether she wants to act as a witness.

2. Right to Residence

If the woman decides to give evidence and accepts the assistance of a specialised centre, she can receive a temporary residence permit until the final judgement is given, including possible reviews. The woman is allowed to work. This document will be prolonged as long as she co-operates with judicial authorities and as long as the investigation is continuing. The woman is not allowed to contact anyone in the environment of exploitation.

3. Advice and Support

The woman is entitled to obtain advice and support from an advisory centre. The police is obliged to inform her about her special rights. The advisory centre will have the opportunity to get in touch with the woman. This can be realised, if the woman agrees, by inviting a member of the advisory centre’s staff to the police station. The woman should insist that the police contact such an advisory centre. If police refuse to get in touch with the advisory centre, the woman should contact her lawyer and ask him/her to inform the prosecutor/investigating magistrate and the advisory centre.

a) Accommodation and Help

The advisory centres offer her safe accommodation, socio-psychological care, support in dealing with authorities and legal and administrative advice.

b) Legal Advice

Advisory centres can put the woman in touch with a lawyer to inform her of her rights, so that the woman may decide for or against giving evidence. Indeed, most legal advice is given by specialised employees of the advisory centres.

In certain circumstances Belgian law entitles people to free assistance by a lawyer, provided that the lawyer and the “bureau of legal advice” agree. In addition to this agreement, the woman has to belong to one of the following categories:

  • people who receive financial support from the OCMW,
  • minors,
  • foreigners who have applied for a regularisation of their permit to stay in the country,
  • asylum seekers,
  • displaced persons,
  • migrants that receive an expulsion order (also an “order to leave the country”),
  • detainees
  • and people that demonstrate that their monthly net income is less than €660.00.
c) Criminal Proceedings Against the Victim / Witness

If the woman has committed an offence herself, the offence can be prosecuted. In other words, she may have to undergo criminal court proceedings. However, if the woman is able to prove that the offence committed by her is related to another crime of which she was a victim, she may not be punished. It will be up to the various judiciary officials to decide about prosecuting this crime/offence.

3. Initiation of Legal Proceedings

A victim or a witness or any other person can report a crime to the police, who will inform the prosecution service/the royal prosecutor (“Procureur des Konings“). The prosecution service can start an investigation. They have full autonomy and authority to decide on further prosecution or not, although they have to follow the criminal prosecution policy.

At this level of the investigation, preliminary proceedings are secret and supervised. They are directed by the aides of the prosecution service. In Belgium there are specialist magistrates for several crimes. (“reference magistrates”(“referentiemagistraat“)). Therefore an investigation concerning human trafficking will be led by the reference magistrate for human trafficking.

At this level no warrants of arrest, nor search warrants nor other enforcing methods that infringe the basic rights of the individual person are possible. This is called a tracing investigation (“opsporingsonderzoek“).

A criminal investigation starts with a complaint from the victim or on the formal request of the prosecutor’s office. If the victim of a crime starts it with a complaint, which has to be done in front of the judge of instruction, a provisional fee of at least €125.00 has to be paid.

The criminal investigation (“gerechtelijk onderzoek”) is supervised and directed by the judge of instruction (“Onderzoeksrechter“), who is an independent judge who can use enforcing methods of investigation (e.g. warrants of arrest, search warrants). In general a criminal investigation is reserved for serious criminal offences, in which enforcing methods of investigation are necessary.

A criminal investigation ends with a report by the investigating magistrate in front of an investigation court (“raadkamer” or “kamer van inbeschuldigingstelling“) that will decide on whether to bring the case to court (“correctionele rechtbank“) or on classification.

Once in court (composed of one or three professional judges and no jury) the procedure becomes public and both victim and perpetrator(s) can defend themselves.

The court can rule to hear certain witnesses but in general the court will base its decision exclusively upon the contents of the file and the oral and written arguments of the different parties.

A. Duration of Legal Proceedings

Often a long time passes between the woman’s first statement at a police station, the beginning of legal proceedings and her statement as a witness in court. Legal proceedings can last from two months to two full years (approximately and unpredictable), due to many different factors (e.g. caseload and the prosecutor’s assistant, developments in other cases where some of the suspects are also involved, proof needed etc.).

B. Trafficked Women

1. Right to Residence

If legal proceedings have been initiated, a residence permit will be granted to a woman who is a victim of trafficking and a witness in the proceedings. The residence permit is granted from the beginning of the legal proceedings until the final judgement.

It is only granted if the woman co–operates with the police and prosecution service, and only on the condition that the woman has no contacts with anyone in the environment of exploitation, or any suspects, and if she is assisted by an advisory centre.

If the prosecution service closes the investigation (e.g. because they cannot find the suspects, lack of proof) the apparent victim will no longer receive residence documents and has to leave the country, if she has no other right to residence.

2. Living Conditions
a) Care Programmes at Advisory Centres

Advisory centres will give support (e.g. accommodation, legal advice, food and clothing) to crime victims.

b) Accommodation, Language Courses, Study or Work

During the legal proceedings the woman is entitled to accommodation and maintenance (food, clothing etc.). She receives social benefits in cash (public welfare funds) if she lives on her own and the OCMW does not pay the rent directly to the landlord. Otherwise, she will receive the balance. If she stays in one of the safe houses run by the advisory centre she will receive pocket money.

In addition, she is entitled to medical and physical care by a doctor of her choice. She also has access to professional training courses.

c) Police Protection Schemes

If the witness is to be further questioned and if dangerous situations might arise, the woman may request police protection. This depends on a decision by the prosecutor or by the investigating judge. In any case, it is dependent on the condition that the woman has no contacts with the environment/milieu of the human trafficking and is assisted by an advisory centre. In practice this is not arranged often.

Please note:
There is no specialised witness protection programme. The only protection offered is security with regard to residency status and assistance from the specialised centres.
d) Work

Women who are a victim of trafficking in human beings are permitted to work during the investigation and the proceedings against the perpetrators. They are entitled to a so-called work permit C which is valid for one year and extendable.

3. Decision to Appear as Witness or Civil Party
Before the start of the court proceedings, the woman should decide – together with her lawyer – whether to give evidence as a witness only, or whether to appear as a civil party as well.
a) Role as Witness

1. Limited to the Giving of Evidence as Witness
As a witness, the women is invited to the court only to give evidence.

She may neither participate in earlier appointments nor may she obtain information regarding the contents of the files. She is not informed about the course of proceedings, nor is she able to influence these. Otherwise, she will be informed in advance about the dates of the proceedings and about the possibility of getting access to the file.

2. No Company of a Lawyer
As a witness, the woman is not entitled to appear before the court in the company of a lawyer.

b) Rights as Civil Party

As a civil party, the woman has considerably more rights before the proceedings in front of the investigation court (“raadkamer” or “kamer van inbeschuldiginstelling“) start or in court during the proceedings than if she is merely a witness. As a civil party she is able to influence the proceedings by official initiatives. Under certain conditions, she can declare herself a civil party at any moment until the court declares the case has been heard.

1. Right to View Documentation
The lawyer of a civil party is entitled to view the file during the initial enquiry and during the main proceedings. Thus, the woman will discover the characteristics of the court proceedings at an early stage, for example, how many accused parties there are, whether witnesses are to give evidence, what evidence the public prosecution has gathered etc.

2. Participation in All Appointments
The lawyer – and if she wishes it, also the woman herself – may participate in all court appointments and the lawyer has the right to make representations to the court. The monitoring of the whole proceedings could be very useful for the woman to prepare her own evidence as witness. On the other hand the credibility of her declaration could be considered partial. For this reason she should contact her lawyer on how to act.

3. Lawyer’s Rights of Procedure
The investigation and the inquiry are secret and part of the same procedure. At a certain stage the lawyer of the civil party has access to the dossier and then s/he can make very specific additional inquiries. The lawyer of the civil party has the right to reply to what other parties have said on several occasions. The suspect always has the right to the last word.

4. Lawyer’s Fees
In some cases the woman is entitled to free assistance by a lawyer of her own choice or by a lawyer appointed by the “Bureau for legal advice”. For this, the lawyer has to agree and the “Bureau for legal advice” has to confirm this agreement. Belgian law entitles several categories of people to obtain such legal advice free of charge (law of Nov 23, 1998 that introduced the grant of legal aid and the royal decrees in execution of this law) – e.g. people that demonstrate that their monthly net income is less than €660.00, people who receive financial support from the OCMW, foreigners that have applied for a regularisation of their permit to remain in the country, asylum seekers and displaced persons.

c) Conditions for Civil Party Status

For this special procedural status, the woman has to claim that personal damages have been caused by the crime that was committed by the suspect. This procedural status is obtainable before the judge of instruction by deposing a formal complaint or, during the criminal investigation, by writing a letter to the investigating judge; or, before the investigation court (“raadkamer” or “kamer van inbeschuldigingstelling“) or in court, by means of personal presence and/or representation of her lawyer. There is a deadline for obtaining this status: the last moment before the president of the court declares that the case has been heard and taken into deliberation.

4. Court Proceedings

In court, the case is considered afresh, that is, independently of previous enquiries by police and public prosecution. When criminal proceedings are opened, the woman is invited to give her evidence as a witness. At the end of the proceedings the court issues a verdict as to whether the perpetrator(s) is/are guilty or not.

A. Duration of Court Proceedings

Proceedings relating to trafficking in human beings and similar offences are sometimes very long and will take approximately 2 months to 2 years from the beginning of the proceedings until the final decision. It is impossible to predict how long the proceedings will take.

B. A Witness Gives Evidence

The following explanations apply to the statement made by the woman when questioned, whether as witness only as a civil party.
1. Duration

The statement is given either in the course of one day or over several days. Occasionally the witness may also be asked to attend a second time, later in the proceedings, because new questions concerning her have arisen.

2. Questions

The woman will be questioned by the judges only. The parties only suggest to the judge certain questions to pose. The judge can refuse to pose certain questions and he can re-formulate questions. In some cases the witness is not needed at all during the trial, because in most cases the judges base their verdict on the contents of the file.

3. Obligation to Testify/Right to Remain Silent

In the position of a witness called before the judge, the woman is obliged to answer questions truthfully and must omit nothing; otherwise she risks criminal prosecution on the grounds of perjury/false testimony. Before acquiring the status of a civil party, she can be questioned under oath.

It is accepted that a witness can refuse to make a statement in order not to incriminate herself. But it is a criminal offence to make a false declaration in order to put the blame on someone else. Giving false testimony (a declaration not under oath) is punishable, but parents, children, brothers and sisters, grandchildren and the (ex)husband/wife, who made their false testimony in favour of the accused relatives, are excluded from prosecution.

4. Lawyer

When giving evidence, the woman may be accompanied by a lawyer only if appearing jointly as a civil party.

5. Translator

The witness is entitled to the services of a translator in her own language. If she feels unable to trust the translator, she does not have the right to refuse him/her. But if she mentions her distrust, that distrust will have to be noted in her statement, and the judge will usually arrange for another translator. She is not obliged to give an explicit explanation for her distrust, but it is advisable to do so.

C. Protection of the Witness

1. Police Protection

The woman may be accompanied and protected by the police during the entire proceedings, and particularly during her statement. There is no legal entitlement to this protection. The prosecutor or the judge of instruction decides to what degree they consider the woman endangered. In order to obtain the best possible protection, the woman should inform the police of threats made against her by the perpetrators and/or by others.

In cases of serious threats against the woman, she may also receive protection on her way to the court or on her way home.

2. Giving Evidence Anonymously

Generally, a witness has to state her name and address when giving evidence. However, if the woman is at high risk due to her testimony, the court may decide that the information will not be divulged to the public and to the other participants in the proceedings.

If a question is asked that might reveal the witness’ identity, the investigating judge/court magistrate can interfere and prohibit the witness from answering the question.

3. Evidence in a Non-Public Hearing

The public can be excluded from court sessions if personal or intimate questions are to be put to the witness. This can be ruled by the judge in matters of immoral offences for the entire duration of the trial. After that the pronouncement of the judgement is always in public.

4. No Evidence Without the Presence of the Accused

It is not possible to exclude the accused party if the witness is afraid or has other reasons for not giving evidence in his or her presence. But it is possible for the witness to make her statement anonymously or via closed video conference.

D. Compensation for the Victim

1. From the Perpetrator
a) During Criminal Proceedings

During criminal proceedings, the woman as a civil party may make claims for damages and compensation through her lawyer. Soon, victims of human trafficking will be able to solicit payments from a special fund, as soon as the woman has received an indefinite residence permit (thus, possibly during the criminal proceedings). A royal decree will determine when the law enters into force. The commission that decides will judge on a case-by-case basis.

b) During Civil Proceedings

The woman may also make her claims before the civil courts as soon as the criminal proceedings are over. She can initiate civil proceedings earlier, but the civil judge will postpone the case in order to wait for a definite criminal verdict.

2. From the State

If compensation from the convicted person is not forthcoming, the victim is entitled to claim compensation from the state for the losses she has suffered through criminal acts.

Soon, victims of human trafficking will be able to solicit payments from a special fund, as soon as the woman has received an indefinite residence permit (thus, possibly during the criminal proceedings). A royal decree will determine when the law enters into force. The commission that decides will judge on a case-by-case basis.

E. Trafficked Women

Procedure concerning women’s right to residence, their living conditions and rights during court proceedings are the same as those detailed above under Initiation of Legal Proceedings.

5. After the Verdict

A. Right to Residence

After the conclusion of the proceedings, if the result is negative, the victim of trafficking in women will be returned to the legal status she had before the proceedings (before she received the 45 days “order to leave”). The woman will have to verify with her lawyer what her options are and make a decision. Her right to residence depends on her legal status. This legal status depends on a combination of different factors such as nationality, passport, visa, relatives in Belgium, how long she stayed in Belgium, the asylum procedure, her physical conditions, the situation in the country of origin and on the status of an already introduced art. 9 procedure. For details/options, please see section Staying in Belgium.

If the result of the legal proceedings is positive, the woman can apply for an indefinite residence permit. The application for an indefinite residence permit will be granted, if the deposition/complaint led to a the judge of first instance finding the accused guilty, or if the prosecutor has upheld the charge of human trafficking and if the deposition/complaint was of meaningful interest for the case.

B. Support in Leaving the Country

1. Travel Costs and other Public Benefits

If the woman decides to return to her home country, she will obtain travel costs and the costs of visa/documents. Public funds are also available to help the woman in cases where she has been deported.

Whether she is entitled to other public benefits depends on her nationality and on the regulations in force at that moment. She might get a bonus granted by the Belgian authorities or by the IOM.

2. Help With Setting Up

Generally, no means are available to help the woman set up in her own country. Recently, however, IOM started re-integration programs for foreigners who decided to go back to their home countries. Through such initiatives there is a possibility of being assisted by social organisations and of receiving financial support.

3. Contacts

Advisory Centres in Belgium help clients organise their homeward travel and supply contact information for support in the home country.

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