Four years for rape is not enough, Flemish justice minister says

The Flemish Minister of Justice, Zuhal Demir, took to Twitter to say the four-year prison sentence for a 19-year-old convicted of rape is "too low". The man was handed the sentence for the rape a pregnant woman.

Minister Demir has called for improved therapy and rehabilitation for sex offenders in prison, saying there is "never an excuse" for raping women. She also lashed out at lawyer Christine Mussche, after she referred to the defender and client as an "ordinary" boy.

"An 'ordinary boy', Master Mussche? An ordinary boy doesn't rape women. There is never an excuse for that. Never. #sentencetoolow", Demir tweeted (translated from Dutch).

The sex offender, Ben C., had drunkenly pulled a 29-year-old pregnant woman off her bicycle in the early hours of 7 April 2021 in Lier, province of Antwerp, and raped her. The maximum sentence that the court could have imposed for the offence was five years in prison. But the three-member court, made up of women, ruled that four years would suffice, two of which are suspended.

"An ordinary boy doesn't rape women. There is never an excuse for that. Never."

Demir does not consider it problematic that she offered her opinion on a judicial verdict, her spokesperson told Flemish newspaper De Standaard, as she is the Flemish – as opposed to a federal – Minister of Justice, as well as a "human being with the right to her own opinion".

The Justice Minister often believes that rape cases are sentenced too low, as she is in favour of a higher sentence combined with offender therapy.

The lawyer defending the rape victim, Hugo Coveliers, does not agree with Demir's criticism. "It is always better as a minister not to comment on a matter you are not familiar with. I am also in favour of stricter sentences, but I think this is a good verdict."

Besides four years in prison, the perpetrator must pay large damages, get treatment for his sexual problems and stay away from drugs and alcohol. "I'm pretty sure they'll follow suit," Coveliers said.

The defendant's lawyer Christine Mussche responded to Demir’s comments, saying: "The minister is talking about a dossier she does not know. It is disappointing that she is guided by newspaper articles without context."

In the new Federal law against sex crimes which was approved last month, the maximum sentence for rape will be increased to ten years.


Flemish Minister of Environment, Energy, Tourism and Justice Zuhal Demir - © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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