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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
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.
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.
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.
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 abusersThe 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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
On 1 March 2001, the Ministry of Justice opened a website (in Dutch)
as part of its campaign against domestic violence: www.huiselijkgeweld.nl.
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:
Dutch Police Institute
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
Public Prosecution Service
- The Association of Netherlands Municipalities
- Victim Support
- Child abuse hotlines
- 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