How equal is the gender (non) in the Netherlands? The hidden problem of psychological violence | news item

news item | 2022-11-08 | 10:56

Psychological violence may seem less harmful than physical violence. Because you don’t always see the consequences. But nothing is less true. Psychological violence is a huge problem that can take many forms. As with other forms of violence in the private sphere, women are more likely to be victims, and men are usually the perpetrators. Especially when it comes to serious violence. It constitutes a violation of a person’s mental integrity and, according to the institute, should be punished separately.


What is psychological violence in the private sphere? Consider constantly checking on the partner, blocking seeing family and friends, constantly taking responsibility, belittling, harassing and threatening. It is precisely the combination of these types of behavior that makes them harmful to the victim. As with other forms of violence in the private sphere, women are more likely to be victims than men.

Violence around divorce

We see that psychological violence is also prevalent during and after divorce. This can be the case with couples where there has already been violence during the relationship, but it can also arise during divorce proceedings. It is clear that living separately during divorce proceedings or after the announcement of divorce does not automatically lead to a decrease in violence. Violence against a (former) partner can increase, and even escalate, at that point.

Coercive control is often the continuation and exacerbation of a degree of control that was already in place during the relationship.

Many cases of femicide were preceded by severe psychological violence. This often involves coercive control. This is a serious form of intimate partner violence in which one partner strongly dominates and controls the other. Coercive control is often the continuation and exacerbation of a degree of control that was already in place during the relationship.


Mention the name of psychological violence

Many divorce cases are accompanied by arguments and struggles. It’s important to keep in mind that terms like “fighting divorce” and “separating conflict” can obscure what’s really going on: one partner is intimidating, manipulative, and violent. There is no cross-violence as these terms suggest. It often involves psychological violence, whether or not combined with or threatened physical or sexual violence. Coercive control can be invisible to the outside world, for example if the person exercising it appears to be a kind man taking on the role of the victim himself.

The role and severity of psychological violence and coercive control as such do not receive sufficient attention from specialists, including legal procedures, while the impact on the partner and children is serious.

Consequences for women exposed to light

Current policy and practice focus on children’s well-being. There is no doubt that they suffer greatly in the case of coercive control. However, it is still not clear that the violence is directed primarily against the (former) partner and also has serious consequences for her, not only in her role as a mother. The approach should focus more on recognizing coercive control as a form of (former) partner violence.

Treatment of psychological violence in the Netherlands falls short

So it is not without reason that Article 33 of the Istanbul Convention states that states must criminalize intentional conduct that seriously harms the psychological integrity of another person through coercion or threat. The interpretation of this treaty provision makes clear that the main purpose is to address a pattern of violence.

There has never been a trial for psychological abuse involving an adult victim.

This is difficult with current legislation. Psychological abuse can indeed be prosecuted under criminal offense provisions. Prosecution is also possible in principle under other criminal provisions, such as coercion, threat and stalking. However, there has never been a trial for psychological abuse involving an adult victim. Therefore, the group of experts that monitors compliance with the Istanbul Convention, GREVIO, has asked the Netherlands to investigate, prosecute and effectively punish psychological violence. Many experts push for a specific criminalization. The House of Representatives requested an investigation into the added value of such a ruling. This research has now been published.

Criminalization of psychological violence

The Institute notes that current legislation is insufficient to effectively address psychological violence. The introduction of separate criminalization can clarify exactly what psychological violence is, and contribute to addressing certain patterns of psychological violence that often remain underexposed. Of course, criminalization alone is never enough. The government must also ensure that professionals in the police, prosecutors and other emergency services have adequate knowledge (approach) to psychological violence. They must first be able to recognize psychological violence in order to be able to treat it.

Series: To what extent is gender equality (un) in the Netherlands?

On International Women’s Day (8 March), the college started the series “How equal are the sexes in the Netherlands?” Every month for a year, he highlights a problem that puts women’s human rights under pressure. This was the ninth part about psychological violence.

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