CPVS workers in Brussels have reinforced concrete shoulders (2023)

Clickicito read the other article in this two-part series, and understand how CPVS works in detail.

“I always tell the victims that the attack is over, that now we are in the “after”. I see myself as a small part of the healing process and if I can help, I help, ”says Elodie Bima (30 years old), forensic nurse at theSexual Violence Support Center (CPVS)) from Brussels.



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Every day and night, victims of sexual assault come to number 320 rue Haute, to seek medical, forensic or psychological care, and possibly file a complaint with an inspector. trained for acts of morals. In January alone, more than 80 people went there. If pushing the door of a CPVS following an attack remains delicate, opening it and welcoming the traumas of the victims is obviously not easy either, despite training and experience. Between the difficult schedules and the mental aspect, the staff performs work that is as essential as it is psychologically heavy.

VICE sat down with some of the crew to chat about their work and the impact it's having on their daily lives.

CPVS workers in Brussels have reinforced concrete shoulders (2)

Céline Van Vaerenbergh (35), a basic midwife in obstetrics, was working at the CHU Saint-Pierre when she heard about the CPVS project. At that time, she felt that she had not yet reached the end of her career in obstetrics, but the fact of working with victims of sexual violence aroused her interest. “The crux of my job as a caregiver has always been to offer the best support possible,” she says confidently. It was really a goal for me to offer dignified care for these patients, because I knew it was an obstacle course. In November 2017, the CPVS in Brussels opened its doors as a pilot project, and Céline was part of it as a nurse – she would later become the center's coordinator. She then worked with eight nurses, a bit limited to ensure continuous service. During their shift, they are therefore alone, night and day, to welcome the victims. "A big point of pain," she adds.

Elodie, a forensic nurse, had been working at the Saint-Pierre emergency center for a few years. At first, she did not immediately feel entitled to work in contact with victims of sexual violence and took time to get started. Pushed by one of her colleagues, she ended up applying in 2020 and has been working at the CPVS for three years now. In April 2022, Ella Kempeneer (27) joined the team. After six months of jobs here and there, on leaving her studies, she comes across the testimonies of seven victims in a press article. The text mentions the CPVS of Ghent and it is the click, she applies for the position of forensic nurse.

Little by little, the team grew and now has 22 forensic nurses and midwives, 6 psychologists, 5 doctors – including gynecologists and infectiologists – and an administrative and logistical assistant, in addition to the coordinator, Celine. Since March 2023, thanks to these recruitments and additional funding, they can be at least two per shift.

“This work has clearly changed the way I see things, the way I see the world, people. »

Forensic nurses are the first people to greet victims when they come to the CPVS. They create a first link with the survivors, take care of them. They are "case managers", their role also consists in calling back the victims, later, to find out how they are doing after their first visit to the centre. The workers express that it is sometimes difficult to “let go” of certain files but that it is essential in order not to become too emotionally involved. "Every day, among colleagues, we have to say to ourselves: 'Now you go home to rest, I'll take care of that.' “says Ella.


Open 24/7, the place also welcomes victims at night, intense care: "A person who arrives at 3 a.m. just after his attack, he is completely emotional and myself, at night, I am less operated', says Elodie. I'm more on edge and it's hard. “She also points out that there is no standard care, and the shifts can therefore be lengthened according to the needs of the person: “It is the victim who guides. Sometimes it lasts 1 hour, sometimes 4 or 5.

CPVS workers in Brussels have reinforced concrete shoulders (3)


Staff members must, in fact, ensure complicated schedules. Most of them therefore work in 4/5th grade within the centre. During job interviews, full-time is not even recommended to them, certain previous experiences having shown that it was too much, physically but above all emotionally. “When you do five days in a row with two daily treatments, you have a huge emotional baggage, so two days of recovery is clearly not enough”, adds Céline


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In terms of psychological impact, if the CPVS workers manage to keep their cool in the face of the victims, their means of defense can sometimes crumble and the need to break down is felt from time to time. "There are times when I have a lot of anger, where I feel like I live in a shitty world full of assholes," says Céline. I don't understand all this cruelty. When we accumulate 4-5 treatments with victims who have experienced horrible things over a week, I can no longer have faith in human beings. This work has clearly changed my way of seeing things, the way I see the world, people. »


“There is meaning in the sadness, there is meaning in what you bring home. »

The nurses agree that their habits have changed since working at the CPVS and that they face stories of abuse. Céline explains that she no longer feels as serene as before in certain places. Elodie, she hardly allows herself to consume alcohol outside of parties at home or with friends, so as not to put herself in insecurity. “I need to be in control,” she says. For her part, Ella admits that she is no more worried than before since joining the CPVS. In fact, she explains above all that she has always been very vigilant when she is alone in the street at night, because she is afraid as a woman. She also adds that “to think that there are risks in some places and not elsewhere is an illusion. »

If it is important for the members of the team to preserve their loved ones, Céline confides to us that she sometimes has the feeling of not being able to talk about her work. "With those around us, our friends, it's often the thing that breaks the mood," she says. I can't go home and talk about my day at work like I used to. Sometimes it's even a little annoying because it's not because we work at the CPVS that we are not well. You can be happy doing this job, but often people say to themselves: "I'm not going to ask, because it's automatically bad." As for Elodie, it took her more than a year to tell her family about the specifics of her job.


CPVS workers in Brussels have reinforced concrete shoulders (5)


The consequences of this work are all the more tangible and important when they take shape within the couple itself. Elodie's, for example, faced difficulties following her entry into the CPVS, in particular because of staggered hours: "When you do a job like that, you need to be supported by your partner, like any job! And I didn't feel that. The schedules are not easy either. Working until midnight, when you have a child and a partner who is sometimes not understanding and who would like to have a more "tidy" life, it's complicated. In particular, Ella had to learn to tame another way of life, more in tune with her professional activity. "When I do a shift that ends at 10 o'clock in the evening, it's not possible to go for a drink afterwards," she explains. At first it was confronting because I was like, “My life is going to look like this? Fall asleep at 11 p.m.?” But in fact, you realize that you have given so much during this shift that you have to give yourself this rest. At first it was scary, but life gives you other things when you go to bed early.

As mothers, Elodie and Céline also explain that they are more anxious for their children since they have been doing this job. “I protect myself a lot so as not to become the paranoid mother, I let my child live but I am more often on my guard,” says Elodie, who sometimes performs pediatric care. That said, they also both say that their jobs positively influence their parenthood and the education they give to their children, they who work on a daily basis around the notion of consent. A CPVS report indicates that between January and May 2022, some13.5% of victimswho pushed the door of one of the centers were under 12 years old (and 11% over the whole of 2021).


“I love it, this force of resilience in patients. That's what keeps me going. People arrive with strength in them, if you accompany them, you can have an impact. »

In this context, everyone has their way out and their techniques for taking some distance from their job. Céline lives in the countryside with her family surrounded by animals, which allows her to separate her personal life and work quite well. Elodie's resource is the time limit, the fact of badgering. “When I badge, I put on my forensic nurse cap and I am there 100%, she says. I do my care and if I have to cry afterwards, I cry with a colleague. But once I badge at the end of my shift, my life begins. Ella explains that being in tune with yourself and your emotions is a constant learning process. “There are days when I am more affected, but it is legitimate, she says. In itself, I also like when it affects me more, it's because I really connect with the victim, it's part of the job, it's important to sometimes give way to their emotions. There's meaning in the sadness, there's meaning in what you bring home."

"There's not a situation where you get out of there and you say to yourself: 'It's okay, it was nice, we had a good laugh,' continues Céline. It is rather an alternation of very difficult situations and others a little less. To help them hold on, nurses can benefit from two sessions with a shrink per year, provided for in the CPVS agreement, and additional supervision will soon be put in place.


CPVS workers in Brussels have reinforced concrete shoulders (6)

Almost six years after the launch of the first three CPVS (in Brussels, Ghent and Liège), Belgium now has nine in total (Antwerp, Charleroi, Louvain, Genk, Roeselare andrecently Namurjoined the list). In theFirst evaluation of Sexual Violence Treatment Centers, published in 2020, Nathalie Muylle, then Federal Minister for Equal Opportunities, welcomed the first years of activity and presented the CPVS as having become an international reference. “Several European countries are interested in the idea of ​​adopting the Belgian example,” she wrote in the introduction.


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In a context where the impunity of the perpetrators is favored and the figures concerning sexual violence in Belgium are alarming (90% of respondentsto a survey carried out by the Dedicated Institute believe that the fear of not being believed is an obstacle to confiding), the CPVS are essential and we can only be delighted with their expansion within the various hospitals of the country. At the same time, the staff of the CPVS in Brussels hope to obtain more recognition (and resources), and that the model be better known to victims – how many know that it exists?

Céline, Elodie and Ella often come back to the meaning of their work and say they are lucky to never ask themselves questions about it. This is what particularly helps them to hold on. “There are weeks when victims come back and we see that they are fine, that we were able to make a difference and that they have regained the upper hand, explains Céline. We say to ourselves that it is there, the meaning. “Elodie adds:” It is true that we welcome the trauma, but we also welcome lots of moments of happiness. I love it, this force of resilience in patients. That's what keeps me going. People arrive with strength in them, if you accompany them, you can have an impact. The nurses also stress that the difficulty of this work creates powerful team cohesion. "There's no better than here for kindness and love, it's a nugget, rejoices Elodie. In fact, it is a cocoon for the victims but also for us. But if all the women we spoke to say they are proud and happy to do this work, none see themselves practicing it all their life.

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