From the book “THE CAGED VIRGIN” by Ayaan Hiris Ali
How to Deal with Domestic Violence More Effectively
An average of eighty women, forty children, and twenty-five men die each year in the Netherlands as a result of domestic violence, but the government has no proper answer to the problem. If the domestic violence takes place among people from a "different culture," the authorities are extra reluctant to intervene, and clear choices cannot be made.
Plenty of mission statements have been produced in recent years. Apart from perfunctory declarations disapproving of and condemning violence, numerous promises have been made over the years to the Dutch House of Representatives, reports are published at regular intervals, and domestic violence has been the theme of dozens of symposia and conferences. The above figures come from a report circulated in March 2002 by the then outgoing government. At an international level the Dutch government even managed to get a resolution on honor killings accepted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This resolution calls on member states to "take preventive action against this kind of crime and to combat it, through legislative, educational, social, and other measures." This is all rather unconvincing when you realize that none of the successive cabinets have managed to turn their declarations of intent into * actual policy. Since the initial acceptance of the motion against domestic violence, in 1981, no coherent plan of action has been proposed, and the campaign against domestic terror is still unformed, insubstantial, and ineffectual.
Despite several studies, the Counsel for the Prosecution has no idea, for example, how often honor killings occur in the Netherlands, because the police still record^them as homicides. We also know far too little about genital mutilation of women and forced marriage. An added problem when dealing with domestic violence is that different cultures do not necessarily view it in the same light. Because the native Dutch population generally regards domestic violence as immoral, the approach of certain local authorities, to subject perpetrators of domestic violence to a fixed plan of treatment, has had some good results. Sadly, however, the government has not been able to develop these local methods (a good example is Utrecht) into one national policy.
The murder of Zarife, a Turkish girl, living in the Dutch city of Almelo, by her father, illustrates a category of domestic violence that is tolerated on cultural or religious grounds. The offender's conduct is morally acceptable within his own community What is more, the offender will often feel under pressure from others to use violence. If he fails to fulfill his duty, he can be literally "gossiped out" of the community An offender who takes action with the knowledge and approval of his family and saves his honor, actually goes up in the estimation of his community For the girls and women in this culture this is a strong deterrent, which thwarts the government's emancipation policies.
At the root of the problem is the Islamic concept of premarital sex. What we need is a coherent cultural campaign to promote discussion about sexuality Sex before marriage, as long as it is between adults, is not illegal. And although you may disagree about whether this is morally acceptable or not, violence should not be the response under any circumstances.
It is naive to think that organizations representing the target groups should lead such a campaign. Dutch social workers who take advice from these organizations are inclined to disguise the real issue. They reassure the parents of girls who have been threatened that their daughters are chaste virgins, while at the same time their colleagues in the medical clinics are helping girls to have their hymens restored.
Everybody agrees that domestic violence is a highly complex issue, but the Dutch government's approach to the problem is just too fragmented. At least six departments dealing with no fewer than twenty-one laws are involved. At the local government level is a jungle of institutions, each responsible for a different aspect of domestic violence. Thus, there are different organizations for each of the following: identifying and reporting domestic violence, investigating the crime, supporting the victim, tracking down offenders, prosecuting, and preventing. None of these organizations sees it as its main task to prevent and tackle domestic violence. In this labyrinth a victim will feel easily lost. She already needs all her courage and strength to break away from the violent environment, for fear of further violence shrouds the problem in shame and secrecy.
In Agril 2003 the House of Representatives accepted a motion that demanded that the government set out its vision for the campaign against domestic violence by September 1 of that year. Typical of what normally happens, the presentation of this plan has so far been postponed twice.
In order to tackle domestic violence, a number of measures need to be in place.
There should be a central help desk for victims, one service that coordinates all the organizations involved. This institution should be responsible for the preventing, identifying, and reporting domestic violence, referring those involved, gathering information, giving advice, tracking down offenders, preparation for the prosecution, and probation. Utrecht is one of the places that has had good experiences with a coordinated service along these lines, although the various links in the chain of preventive measures remain spread over a number of institutions.
The overall budget and coordination should be in the hands of one government minister or secretary.
The safety of the victims must be guaranteed by placing the offender, rather than the victims, outside the home, and by legally obliging the offender to undergo treatment.
The emphasis should move from aftercare to prevention. Following the example of the United States, the Netherlands should set up family courts that specialize in the criminal prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence. The benefits of this approach lie in the fact that collaboration between police, the public prosecution, and social services can be speeded up, and thus become more pragmatic, efficient, and cost-effective. Moreover, this would, at last, allow us to measure the result of the government's policy Finally, a more effective approach to dealing with domestic violence will be a positive influence on the problems of the oppression of women and underage delinquency How many women will have to undergo Zarife's fate before the government can fight domestic violence effectively?
POSTSCRIPT: THE STATE OF AFFAIRS IN JULY 2004
Since this chapter was first written, a majority of the elected members of the House of Representatives has voted in favor of registering honor killings and domestic violence on the basis of ethnic origin. This should finally allow more insight into the problem. Recently, a report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice revealed that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point. I suspect that the true figure is higher, as corporal punishment is seen as justifiable on educational grounds by most families from Muslim countries.
Minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner has said, under pressure from the House of Representatives, that he will consider appointing a committee that will look at how accessories to the crime (from the wider family) who may have assisted in (the planning of) an honor killing could be brought to trial.
Minister of Social Affairs Aart-Jan de Geus and Minister of Integration and Immigration Rita Verdonk have agreed that by the end of this government's term, there will be a structure that covers the nation (i.e., a national help desk), allowing the government to clamp down on domestic violence more effectively. The ministers have promised to see to it that culturally legitimized violence against women in immigrant circles will be firmly dealt with.
In addition, the present government has promised to take prompter and more effective measures against the trafficking of people. This kind of trade is a monstrous and well-hidden form of violence against women. Girls (from as young as eight years old in Asian countries) and women are kidnapped or lured away from their birthplaces in poor regions (Albania, the former Yugoslavia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Congo, various countries in Latin America, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, et cetera) to be sold as sex slaves and exploited in the rich West. Asylum seekers who have been refused a residence permit are enticed by pimps, who promise them "work" and then send them to the red-light districts of European cities, where they are forced to offer themselves as prostitutes. The money earned by these women goes to the so-called organized crime networks. An unintended effect of European asylum policy in combination with the constant stream of immigrants arriving from non-Western countries, is that countless girls fall victim to the sex industry Given the international character of the trafficking in women, a joint plan of action from the European countries is called for. The harmonization of European asylum policies would at least allow us to get a clearer picture of the scale of the trade in women. It is precisely in this area that a joint European approach is so necessary.