Tackling domestic violence against women is compromised because the Western Europe opts for a “gender-neutral approach”. It is precisely this approach that can lead to a blind spot, while women are much more often victims of domestic violence than men. It can even unintentionally lead to more women experiencing domestic violence again.
A group of experts from the Council of Europe warned about this in a study on Monday. The researchers in Strasbourg praise the long history of the Netherlands in reducing (domestic) violence. For example, a lot of policy and legislation has been made regarding cyber violence, genital mutilation, street harassment and sexual violence. Much emphasis is placed on the fact that women and men are equal in relationships.
Yet every year 200,000 adults and 119,000 children in the Netherlands fall victim to domestic violence or child abuse. Eighteen months after a report, 50 percent still have to deal with excessive family violence. The risk of domestic violence and / or child abuse is greater than the risk of other forms of violence. An estimated less than 1 percent of the victims seek professional support within a week. The Netherlands has 500 reception places, such as in stay-from-my-body houses. According to the Council of Europe, there should be 1,700 places. The experts also argue for one telephone advice line.
The researchers notice that in recent years the problem in the Netherlands has been approached more and more in a “gender neutral” way. For example, policy documents deal with “violence in dependency relationships” rather than “domestic violence against women.” The idea is that domestic violence (which also includes child abuse) must be tackled regardless of age, gender, relationships, sexual orientation.
The experts from the Council of Europe see many “positive elements” in this broad approach. But the danger is that if social workers and other professionals “lack gender sensitivity”, this will lead to “gaps in protection and support.” They might be less alert that there is often power inequality between men and women.
This risk arises, for example, if, in the case of partner violence, there is no court case, but a settlement. This is chosen because victims often withdraw their statements in court. However, according to the experts, domestic violence is being “decriminalized”. “As a result, the victim does not get a vote in the proceedings and has no possibility to claim her rights as a victim. Family courts often think that domestic violence ends after divorce and joint custody decisions. According to the experts, they should focus more on past behavior of a perpetrator and on the safety and well-being of children.
The Council of Europe is an international organization in Strasbourg of which 47 European countries are members. In 2011, these countries signed the Istanbul Convention, which focuses on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The European Convention on Human Rights was also drawn up under the auspices of the Council of Europe.
About the author: Rick Culpepper
Rick Culpepper is of those journalists who dig the topic to the very bottom. He is often late with the delivery of the piece, but always does it perfectly. In his spare time, he collects data for one of the most high-profile investigations of corruption in the EU.