X. and Y. v. the Netherlands  | 1985

Justice for mentally handicapped sixteen-year old subjected to sexual abuse

This incident, which occurred on the day after Miss Y’s sixteenth birthday, had traumatic consequences for her, causing her major mental disturbance.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, March 1985


From the age of nine, Y. lived in a home for mentally handicapped children. One night she was woken up by the son-in-law of the director of the institution (who lived on the premises but was not employed there). The man forced Y. to follow him to his room, to undress and to have sex with him.

Y.’s father, X., went to the local police station to ask that criminal proceedings be started against his daughter’s attacker. However, the authorities refused to issue charges. According to Dutch law at the time, criminal proceedings could only be started if they were initiated by the alleged victim.

Everyone agreed that Y. was incapable of launching proceedings herself. Nevertheless, the Dutch courts ruled that her father could not launch proceedings on her behalf. There was a gap in the law, which meant that no criminal prosecution could be started when the victim did not launch it herself.

Y.’s father argued that there must be justice for the sexual abuse.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the law had to criminalise sexual abuse and that it had to enable the prosecution of abusers. Yet Dutch law had not provided for the criminal prosecution of Y.’s attacker. This had breached her basic rights.

This is a case where fundamental values and essential aspects of private life are at stake. Effective deterrence is indispensable in this area…

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, March 1985


Y. was awarded compensation.

The Dutch Criminal Code was changed in 1985. The amendment meant that mentally handicapped people who are the victims of crime can have criminal complaints lodged on their behalf by their legal representative.


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