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Regional Seminar
“Legal Measures to Combat Violence against Women,
including Domestic Violence”
The Hague, 21-22 February 2007

Speech by Ms Mulock Houwer
Director General for Prevention, Youth and Sanctions
Ministry of Justice, Netherlands

Opening session

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

You are most welcome. It is an honour for me to be able to welcome you here in The Hague for the first seminar in the context of the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence Against Women.

I am happy that this campaign was initiated by the Council of Europe. After all, violence against women doesn’t stop at national borders. Moreover, it is an enduring problem that is difficult to tackle. For the Netherlands, this is every reason for responding directly to the call for member states to organise a regional seminar. We are interested to see how other countries approach this problem. Moreover, we would like to share our experiences, because domestic violence is high on the agenda in the Netherlands. A new coalition has recently been established, and the new government aims to take a strong line against domestic violence and forms of honour-related violence that also often occur in the home. So we are going full steam ahead with our chosen course!

Here, we realise that a solution only comes closer when people are aware of the problem of violence against women - and domestic violence in particular. This is why the Netherlands will soon start a large-scale campaign with the slogan ‘Now it’s enough!’. We intend with this to encourage victims, perpetrators and others who are affected to seek support in stopping domestic violence. You will understand that we see the European campaign as an extra support and hope that it will help to further increase awareness of domestic violence.

Back to now, back to his seminar. In consultation with the Council of Europe, we chose ‘Legal measures to combat violence against women, including domestic violence’ as the theme for the seminar. What can we say about it from a Dutch perspective?

I’d like to take you back to the year 2002, when the Dutch government published a policy paper eloquently titled ‘Private Violence – Public Issue’, which contains over fifty concrete intentions and measures. An inter-ministerial project was then launched. At the end of this year, we hope to be able to evaluate it. It should give us answers to questions like: what have we achieved? What have we been unable to do? What still needs to be done?

We’re making good progress, even if we say so ourselves. To start with, we are working hard on what we consider a revolutionary measure: the preventive home restraining order. If there is a threat of domestic violence, this measure enables the mayor to ban the perpetrator - in most cases the male partner - from the home for ten days. These ten days are used to set up a support programme for both the partner banned from the home, the victim, and their children, if any. We hope this measure will prove an efficient way of tackling domestic violence at an early stage. And our principal hope is that it will give the police a tool to work with in situations where there is a threat of violence, but no proof, in which the woman doesn’t want to make a report. And where you know full well that the situation could spiral out of control once you’ve left. You are no doubt familiar with the situation. In extreme cases, you can arrange for the woman and her children to be taken in by the shelter, but that still leaves you wondering why it's the victims that always have to leave. This is a subject we will return to in detail during this seminar.

The preventive home restraining order is not the only measure we are working on. In the near future, we will carry out a large-scale prevalence assessment to gather new and reliable figures on domestic violence in the Netherlands. We also hope to focus on collaborations. Cooperation between ministries, municipalities and the organisations involved in domestic violence. To stimulate this process, we will shortly offer all regions in the Netherlands a domestic violence information point. This can help all organisations to share information and thereby arrive at an integrated approach. And, from 1 January 2007 onwards, municipalities will also be obliged to make domestic violence a permanent part of their policy, and to render accountability for it. This will compel them to work intensively in partnership with all chain partners involved in the region.

Finally, I would like to ask your attention for honour-related incidents of violence. We set up a special programme for it last year. It is aimed at, among other things, empowering victims and risk groups, enabling welfare workers to recognise honour-related violence and to help victims of this type of violence. Moreover, we hope that this will succeed in giving police the chance to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of honour-related crime better and more effectively.

I have given you an impression of the efforts we are making to reduce domestic violence in the Netherlands. You have heard that we have been involved in tackling this issue intensively for many years already. Nonetheless, we regularly encounter matters that make us wonder how other countries deal with them. This is why we are so interested in what you do. Which aspects do you emphasise? What are the dilemmas that you face? What experiences would you like to share with us and other countries? I sincerely hope that this seminar will give all those present a wealth of new information and fresh insights. And, who knows, it might be interesting to see that other countries are also struggling at times. That there is no immediate answer to all problems.

The programme looks extremely promising. I am happy that we were able to convince so many fascinating speakers to come and talk to us. And I am convinced that during the official programme, and during the coffee and tea breaks, during dinner and in the corridors, you will benefit hugely from each other’s experiences. I am looking forward to a fruitful, enjoyable meeting. Good luck to you all!