From this year onwards, the Public Prosecution Service will register how often women become victims of violent crime and murder or manslaughter. “We’re really concerned about the number of women being killed in relationships.”
“We have to do something about that,” says Judith van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer. She is a national prosecutor for domestic violence, child abuse and vice at the Public Prosecution Service.
Focus on female victims
The statistics on femicide do not lie: 48 women were murdered in 2022, in 6 out of 10 cases the perpetrator was a (former) partner. Between 2018 and 2022, 127 women were killed by their partners or exes.
The Public Prosecution Service will now also keep track of the number of female victims of violent crimes and murders. “We are not only looking at murder and manslaughter, but also at (serious) assault,” says Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer.
Mapping the size of the problem
Keeping track of the number of cases is to map how big the problem is and to have a ‘heightened focus’ when a woman is a victim. The same pattern precedes many femicides, the public prosecutor explains.
“Non-fatal strangulation, intimate terror: the woman is isolated by her partner, he follows her on the phone and always wants to know where she is.”
Femicide: Miranda, Clarinda, Linda and many other women
Until recently, the murder of a woman by a (former) partner was still referred to as partner homicide. In recent years, this form of murder has also been called femicide. Femicide is the killing of women or girls because they are women, often the perpetrators are their former partners.
A Dutch femicide case is that of Clarinda van den Bersselaar (2021) who was stabbed to death by her ex shortly after she ended their relationship. Dozens of women are victims of femicide every year, this number increased in the past year.
Looking at the context
When a violent case ends up on the desk of a public prosecutor, from this year onwards, in addition to the case itself, the context of the violence will also be examined. “What is going on here? Is it a pattern? What type of domestic violence is this? Is it, as we call it, intimate terror?” Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer explains.
Intimate terror involves control, coercion, humiliation and manipulation. For example, a partner isolates someone from their immediate environment. There does not necessarily have to be physical violence, but that risk does exist. When there is domestic violence and intimate terror, protection of the victim is paramount, according to Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer. “If that is legally possible.”
‘We have to do that now’
“We often used to look at things in a different way.” According to her, they mainly looked at the last incident that came to them. “To that one blow, after which a report might have been filed,” says Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer.
According to her, the pattern underlying the incident was not examined, which could indicate intimate terror. “We have to do that now. We all have to be aware of this.”
Coercion, stalking or psychological or physical abuse are important red flags or a relationship could escalate into fatal violence. Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer cites a study by the British Jane Monckton-Smith who analyzed 8 points prior to femicide.
Van Schoonderwoerd den Bezemer: “You can also think of violence during pregnancy, if it is directed against the abdomen, that is a clear red flag of intimate terror.” The moment in such a relationship breaks down or a woman thinks about breaking off the relationship can also be a dangerous moment.
Relationship breakdown can be a trigger
A relationship breakdown can be a trigger for a man to think about murder, says the national officer. “If you know how it works, that in the run-up to such a murder there are certain characteristics that we can also do things with in criminal law, then we can do something with that in the approach.”
There is already better cooperation with agencies such as Veilig Thuis, she says. “As a result, we have started to see how it works with those patterns and that context information. And that it is indeed relevant for criminal intervention.”
Aid organization Sterk Huis made a list of signals – ‘red flags’ – that indicate intimate terror and could be a precursor to femicide. Do you recognize the signals? Get help or call 112 in an acute emergency:
- Threats of death (towards the woman or children)
- Threat of suicide
- Possession of weapons or use of weapons
- Recent violent behavior
- Violence during pregnancy
- Forced sex
- Withholding care that acutely threatens health
- Attempted strangulation, suffocation or drowning
- Extreme fear in the victim that her life or that of the children is in danger
- The victim does not dare to speak around the partner and/or shows fear of the partner
- Increasing escalation in severity and/or frequency of violence
‘Zoom in’ on the red flags
The Public Prosecution Service will ‘zoom in’ on the red flags because they also include criminal offenses such as stalking and assault. “We want to intervene in a timely and attentive manner. If we identify such a red flag, you must take the matter very seriously and ask carefully what is needed to protect the victim.”
For example, the Public Prosecution Service can itself impose a so-called behavioral instruction: a contact ban or an area ban. The judge can also be asked to detain someone for longer.
Get your grade down
Could you prevent femicide with this? “I’m not sure if that is possible,” says the prosecutor. “Logically you would think so, but the figures have to show that.”
Her mission is to reduce the number of femicides in the coming years. “I have high hopes that that will work.” Because we are trying to collaborate better and better with other agencies and we are working hard to increase knowledge, she says.
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