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Belgium vows tougher stance on sexual violence after suicide of 14-year-old rape victim

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A police officer walks outside the court of justice in Ghent, the city where the 14-year-old victim was raped.
A police officer walks outside the court of justice in Ghent, the city where the 14-year-old victim was raped.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Yves Logghe, FILE
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The Belgian government hs vowed to toughen its stance on sexual violence after a 14-year-old girl committed suicide only days after being gang-raped in a cemetary.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told MPs that he hoped parliament would adopt a bill that would double the "maximum penalty" for rape.

In a case that has shocked Belgium, the teenage girl was sexually assaulted and raped by several young men in Ghent in May.

Videos of her rape were filmed and posted on social media by the perpetrators. Four days later, on 19 May, the girl killed herself.

The victim's father has stated that his daughter's suicide was connected to the discovery of the videos on social media.

Five teenagers, aged between 14 and 19, have been arrested on suspicion of involvement. Two have been imprisoned while the three others have been placed in youth custody.

The case has sparked great emotion across the country, and Belgium's Prime Minister attended a silent vigil in memory of the teenage girl on Wednesday.

Van Quickenborne has also described the incident as "atrocious" and promised to crackdown on sex offenders.

"For the rape of a minor under the age of 14, the sentence would be increased to 28 years in prison," the justice minister said on Thursday.

"Too often we have left the victims to their fate, we want to do everything possible to ensure that they are better protected," he added.

Belgian PM Alexander De Croo has compared sexual violence against women to a "pandemic" and says the country must fight the issue "with as much energy" as the health crisis.

Van Quickenborne also pledged to "generalise" investigative techniques for cases of sexual violence so that traces of saliva can also be used as evidence.

This method was initially proposed by the Antwerp public prosecutor's office and the pilot project has now received support across Belgium.

"We are going to extend this approach to the whole country, we are going to accelerate it, so that it is standard for all public prosecutors' offices," Van Quickenborne said.