Scattered approach to sexual violence against children

The issue of sexual violence against children is insufficiently recognised by the government. This is the conclusion of the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children in the Sexual Violence against Children Victims Monitoring Report 2017–2018. The Rapporteur states that, although there are multiple programmes and initiatives that focus on specific types of sexual violence against children, there is a lack of cohesion and coordination when it comes to an overarching approach. In addition, he argues for greater efforts to tackle sexual violence against children at the regional level.

The current government has made tackling domestic violence and child abuse a priority. It considers sexual violence against children to be one of its most serious manifestations, deserving of special attention. However, National Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar says that it is not clear what has been done so far to put this into practice. Moreover, sexual violence committed by peers and online sexual violence are not considered domestic violence and are therefore barely mentioned in the policy approach. Bolhaar: 'The relationship between this approach and other policy programmes is not evident either. There are many different types of sexual violence, but the one thing they have in common is that they violate a child's right to safety and a healthy development. If we want to do something about this, we need to have a clear understanding of what is already happening and what still needs to be done. The bottom line is that no child must be left behind.'

Municipalities to act as driving force

In the view of the Rapporteur, it is not just the national government that needs to step up to the plate. Regional authorities should pay more attention to sexual violence against children as well. The government's Geweld hoort nergens thuis (Violence does not have a place in the home : Tackling domestic violence and child abuse) programme also targets municipalities. While the programme focuses on sexual violence, half of all regions indicate that they currently do not spend extra attention to this. For Bolhaar, this is a sore point: 'All municipalities harbour children who are at risk of sexual violence, which is something they should bear in mind in everything they do. What kind of suspicions are being reported to the regional Veilig Thuis (Safe At Home) branch, which coordinates the activities of the municipalities? Do local community teams have the necessary experience and knowledge with regard to sexuality and sexual violence? Are municipalities purchasing the right kind of youth support for children who fall victim to sexual violence? Municipalities must act as a driving force when it comes to this difficult topic.'

The right support

The National Rapporteur uses the biannual Victims Monitoring Report to outline how many children are receiving victim support for sexual violence. However, Bolhaar argues that the picture is far from complete. As an example, Safe At Home's record keeping is as yet insufficiently reliable to provide any hard figures regarding the number of reports they receive about child victims of sexual violence. Such figures are available for the number of children known to the Dutch Child Care and Protection Board as victims of sexual violence. The families of these children often present with addiction problems, a mental impairment or a psychiatric background and have undergone multiple youth support trajectories. Nevertheless, in cases where the court issued a family supervision order, 15% of children were not offered youth support within six months. This is a cause for concern to Bolhaar: 'In these cases, the juvenile court found that the children's safety was at risk. This means that the rapid availability of support is of the essence, since child victims of sexual violence are often victimised again. I therefore recommended the Minister for Legal Protection and the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport to launch an investigation into whether the court's orders to help vulnerable children are effective.'

It's good to talk

According to estimates, almost half of all girls and one out of every five boys experience a punishable type of physical sexual violence growing up. According to the National Rapporteur, however, this often remains hidden: 'Identifying signs of sexual violence is terribly difficult, even for professionals, and children find it hard to discuss. Moreover, it often has far-reaching consequences for them. That is why I am stressing the importance of talking about sexually transgressive behaviour, at home, at school or among peers. Everyone must feel secure in the knowledge that they can talk about it.'