'There is not enough development in how sexual violence against children is dealt with'

Sexual violence against children affects the very thing we want to cherish and safeguard as a society: people's healthy development – especially the healthy development of the young. But the issue of sexual violence is not always a clear-cut one: it is often multifaceted, elusive and widespread. Little seems to have changed in recent years in how offenders of sexual violence against children are dealt with. This is evident from the Sexual Violence Against Children Offenders Monitoring Report 2015-2019 (Dadermonitor seksueel geweld tegen kinderen 2015-2019).

According to Herman Bolhaar, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence Against Children, the conclusions of the report are alarming. ‘We still see the same thing as a few years ago: the way the issue is being dealt with is not keeping up with the way it is evolving. This is despite the tightened policies and the efforts of various parties. There are many young offenders, the processing times are too long, and the prevention of offending and repeat offending is still lacking. There is too little change in how it is being dealt with.’ Bolhaar feels that more action is needed, as well as scope for a custom approach. ‘An approach will only have an impact if it suits the features of the offenders and victims, and the ever-evolving phenomenon of sexual violence against children. It is a complex and hybrid issue, so the solution is not clear-cut one.'

Education is required to prevent youth from becoming young offenders

The reports recently published by the National Rapporteur all paint the same alarming picture: there are many young victims and offenders, both of human trafficking and of sexual violence against children. The research also showed that more than one in four of all offenders of sexual violence against children are minors. This makes it more important than ever to focus on prevention in order to prevent offences, and therefore victimisation. The issue requires structural attention to raise awareness, with the emphasis on learning at an early age how to talk about sexuality, about what desirable interaction is and about what the boundaries are. The world that the young experience, including online, must of course play a pivotal role in this. This education should become a constant aspect of their basic development.

How effective is the rehabilitation process?

‘Prevention is essential, but if sexual violence does occur, it is necessary to do everything possible to end it and prevent it from reoccurring. This requires looking at who the offenders are and what the context is. What are the complex problems related to their becoming offenders? There is not just one type of offender, one type of victim, and one type of crime', says Bolhaar. ‘Here, too, we need to have the opportunity to use a custom approach. This will help in deciding what the most appropriate help and guidance would be to ensure that offenders do not reoffend, which in turn will help prevent victimisation.’

The vast majority of young offenders, some 99 per cent, comply with the measures imposed. However, this says nothing about the effectiveness of the rehabilitation process. The National Rapporteur recommends conducting research into who the young offenders are for whom there are still barriers to appropriate rehabilitation once they have completed probation supervision, what these barriers are, and how these young offenders can best be helped.

Lengthy processing times have a negative effect on offenders and victims

The National Rapporteur requests extra attention for the long processing times in criminal cases. In 2019, it took 417 days to reach a verdict from the moment a case was registered with the Public Prosecution Service (OM), while in 2015 this was 359 days. The fact that it takes so long makes recovery for victims even more difficult than it already is. Moreover, a swift conclusion encourages the willingness to report. Swiftness also has a positive impact on the effectiveness of punishment for young offenders. It therefore is important that the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the judiciary work together.

Task for the next cabinet

‘This complex problem cannot be solved with a spate of fleeting new ideas. It requires a long hard look, expertise, tenacity and the ability to learn. Dealing with it requires time’, says Bolhaar. ‘This means that this is a task that the next cabinet must address. A lot has been invested in policy in recent years, and it is now time to turn that policy into action and implementation.'