Domestic violence in The Netherlands

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


Précédente ] Accueil ] Remonter ] Suivante ]

The Netherlands


Domestic violence in The Netherlands



This fact sheet outlines a strategy to curb domestic violence. This strategy was set out in an action plan the Minister of Justice submitted to Dutch parliament on 16 February 2001.

Domestic violence is not simply a personal or individual problem. It is a statutory criminal offence. The fact that it occurs in private between people who know each other and may have a close relationship does not make it less serious. On the contrary, it is worse to suffer abuse at the hands of a person you know. Children who are exposed to domestic violence suffer badly. They achieve less at school, become alienated from friends, and may resort to violence themselves. In later life, they often have difficulty in forming close relationships and bringing up children of their own.

A survey carried out in 1997 confirmed what social workers and police officers already suspected: domestic violence is extremely widespread. More than 25 percent of the Dutch population reported that they had experienced domestic violence on a daily or weekly basis over long periods of time. Nearly one third said it had changed their lives dramatically, leading to divorce, anxiety or problems in forming close relationships.
Roughly as many males as females are victims of domestic violence. The main difference is that violence perpetrated against women is usually more serious and often takes the form of sexual abuse. Moreover, males are more likely to be abused at a relatively early age, girls and women throughout their lives. Eighty percent of offenders are men.

Nationwide campaign
On 1 October 2000, the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with many organisations in the field, launched a campaign to combat domestic violence. They did not have to start from scratch. In recent years, both government and private sector agencies have formed successful partnerships, organising projects for both victims and offenders. Their aim now is to seek efficient ways of dealing with domestic violence throughout the country.

The campaign defines domestic violence as violence committed by a person in the victim's immediate circle of friends and relatives. Violence is any harm done to a person. It may take the form of psychological, physical or sexual abuse. A person's immediate circle of friends and relatives would include their partner, ex-partner, family members and relatives, as well as people regarded as family friends. The term thus refers to the relationship between abuser and victim. The two do not necessarily live in the same home. In the case of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is often described as a "family friend". They are people the family trusts, or people who have some kind of power that enables them to take advantage of the situation. And they too must fall under the definition.


Aims and priorities of the campaign
The campaign encourages partnerships between government departments and private sector organisations with the object of improving cooperation and information exchange systems and promoting expertise. Its aim is to provide better care for victims and optimal treatment for offenders. The organisations taking part in the campaign have formed three working groups to plan activities and work out proposals.


  • Cooperation
    The campaign encourages organisations to pool their knowledge and resources in dealing with domestic violence. Registration and information exchange systems will be improved for this purpose, as far as privacy laws allow. In practice, much is already being done to deal with domestic violence. An overview of best practices is being prepared and will be widely circulated.

  • Expertise
    Promoting expertise is a high priority. Professionals must be alert to domestic violence and able to recognise situations in which it occurs. They must know how to respond appropriately and what procedures to follow.

    This is especially important for family doctors, paediatricians and other medical practitioners, social work agencies, police officers and teachers. Further research will be carried out to gain a better understanding of domestic violence.
  • Dealing with victims and abusers
    The campaign aims to ensure that victims receive the best possible care and that effective treatment is available for abusers.

The campaign is scheduled to end on 1 April 2002. By that time the many organisations taking part will have laid the foundations for further cooperation and joint activities. Their activities will continue to be monitored and evaluated.

A number of activities set out in the action plan are described below. Some are being carried out or have already been completed, others are still being prepared.

Statutory framework
Under Dutch civil law, a person who commits domestic violence may be forced to leave the victim's home and banned from further contact. Under criminal law, the courts may impose a restraining order. In some countries the courts may impose a relocation order. The Minister of Justice has commissioned a study to ascertain whether this is more effective than the measures available in the Netherlands at present. The results have not yet been published.

Article 304 of the Criminal Code allows the courts to impose heavier sentences in cases where the victim is the offender's mother, father, partner or child. The sentence for engaging in any kind of sexual activity with a child is also higher if the victim is the offender's child, stepchild or foster child. Finally, the penalty for failing to provide help to a person in need of it is more severe if the victim is the child of the offender. A bill which is currently being prepared aims to increase the sentence for common assault from two to three years' imprisonment. In certain circumstances, these measures allow for offenders to be placed in pre-trial detention. They also abolish the present rule that an offender can only be arrested when caught in the act.

A restraining order may be imposed on offenders released from pre-trial detention to prevent the victim from being forced to leave home. The measure also gives social workers, the public prosecution service and the police time to work out a programme for both the victim and the abuser.

Local and provincial authorities
Local and provincial authorities can make a valuable contribution by encouraging partnerships between the various agencies responsible for dealing with domestic violence. The Ministry of Justice has produced a protocol to assist them. Launched in a series of regional conferences on domestic violence in 2001, it describes the strategy adopted by the city of Haarlem in 1996 in a campaign against domestic violence. Haarlem has designed and set up several projects to tackle the problem from all angles.

The police
The police are usually the first to be alerted to incidents of domestic violence. Their job is not only to enforce the law but also to render assistance. They are particularly important in the latter capacity, as they are available 24 hours a day. Following the publication of a Police Policy Plan for 1999-2002, the police were asked to take special measures to combat domestic violence.

The action plan now before parliament proposes developing a model protocol setting out police procedures in cases of domestic violence. A protocol of this kind could be based on the Utrecht protocol or one of several others that are currently in use.

Public prosecution service
As a rule, incidents of domestic violence are only brought to the attention of the public prosecution service after an official complaint has been made. However, social workers or other agencies may report cases at an earlier stage, which often has a number of advantages. It gives the authorities a chance to consider the best way to handle a given case and decide whether to prosecute the offender. A study is being carried out to ascertain whether domestic violence coordinators should be appointed at public prosecutor's offices throughout the country.

Welfare agencies
The initial help victims receive is extremely important. The same applies to abusers. The police are often the first to arrive on the scene, but care workers should be called in as soon as possible. People evidently respond best to outside help immediately after a violent crime. The victim may need urgent assistance, and it is the best time to persuade the offender to join a therapy programme, and to institute legal proceedings if necessary. To improve care services, fieldworkers have suggested introducing special care programmes, offering assistance to the whole family and not just the victim, and creating an unintimidating time-out facility. These proposals will be carefully considered.

Victims and abusers
Extra attention will be given to the problem of domestic violence in ethnic minority families. A study will be carried out to see whether their circumstances differ in any way that makes it more difficult for victims to cope. Care for children will also be given special attention. A national helpline will be set up in 2001 to provide information and advice and deal with reports of child abuse. Callers will be put through to a regional child abuse hotline. Both lines will operate 24 hours a day.

For a variety of reasons, victims are often reluctant to make a complaint. One of the points in the action plan is to establish whether they should be encouraged to do so and, if so, how this could be achieved. Victims or potential victims can also take measures to protect themselves. A leaflet containing advice on this subject will be published in the spring of 2001.

Experience in the Netherlands and other countries shows that certain kinds of treatment for abusers are indeed effective. At the end of 1998, Utrecht police launched a trial behaviour modification programme, attended on a voluntary basis, for men who abuse women. The judicial authorities in the Amsterdam-Amstelland region have introduced a semi-compulsory therapy programme, which offenders can follow during the judicial investigation against them or while serving their sentence. Similar programmes are planned in various parts of the country, and may be introduced nationwide.

Further information
On 1 March 2001, the Ministry of Justice opened a website (in Dutch) as part of its campaign against domestic violence: The site provides useful information for agencies and organisations, and tells victims where to get help. It also gives news and publication updates, details about organisations and projects that aim to combat domestic violence in the Netherlands, and links to other sites.

The following government and private sector organisations are involved in the campaign against domestic violence:

  • The Dutch Police Institute
  • The Federation of Shelters
  • TransAct Centre for Gender Healthcare and Prevention of Sexual Abuse
  • The Clara Wichmann Institute
  • Special training institutes for police officers, judges and public prosecutors
  • Women's shelters
  • The National Working Group on Domestic Violence
  • The Public Prosecution Service
  • The Association of Netherlands Municipalities
  • Victim Support
  • Child abuse hotlines
  • Forum
  • The Child Care and Protection Board
  • The Federation of Probation and Aftercare Boards
  • Province of Zeeland
  • The Ministries of the Interior & Kingdom Relations; Health, Welfare & Sport; Education, Culture & Science; Social Affairs & Employment; Justice.

Many fieldworkers have helped in planning various activities.



Précédente ] Accueil ] Remonter ] Suivante ]