Worrying picture of sexual violence against young people
Teenagers often experience sexual violence and are also more likely than primary school-age children to become repeat victims of an offence. These are the findings in the Slachtoffermonitor seksueel geweld tegen kinderen 2017-2021 (Sexual violence against children victims monitoring report 2017-2021). According to the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children, Conny Rijken, more effective prevention and appropriate support for victims is needed.
A worrying picture of sexual violence against and sexual harassment of young people aged between 15 and 17 has emerged. Prevalence surveys - surveys to determine the frequency of sexual violence - based on figures of Statistics Netherlands (CBS) show that an estimated 95,000 girls (37.8%) and around 34,500 boys (13.4%) of this age have experienced at least some form of sexual violence or sexual harassment.
Children as repeat victims
'Sexual violence against children is very common and has long-term consequences for victims', says National Rapporteur Rijken. 'It is also disturbing to see that teenagers are relatively often repeat victims of an offence'.
At least 35% of 13- to 17-year-olds come to the attention of the police as repeat victims within five years, compared with 14% of 0 to 12-year olds. In more than half of the cases, they are repeat victims of a sexual offence or have experienced serious violence.
Preventing sexual violence
'We must try, to the greatest extent possible, to prevent sexual violence against children by focusing on effective prevention.' The rapporteur's monitoring report shows that the effectiveness of the majority of the existing preventive interventions is unclear. 'This is cause for concern, because the use of ineffective interventions can be pointless or even have the opposite effect', says the National Rapporteur.
Much ground to be made up
Good relationships and sex education in schools is an essential part of effective prevention of sexual violence against children. However, research conducted by Rutgers, the centre of expertise on sexuality, shows that 62% of biology teachers and 79% of social studies teachers in secondary education do not use approved and proven effective supplementary teaching materials.
According to National Rapporteur Rijken, there is still much ground to be made up here: 'For that to happen, schools and support organisations need the correct frameworks. There is an important role for the national government here; it can provide clearer guidance to schools with regards to the provision of information about sexuality and sexual diversity, which will help prevent sexual violence against children.'
Prevention for young people
The National Rapporteur shares the view of Rutgers that relationships and sex education should also focus on young people in the second stage of secondary education. 'At the moment, education on sexuality and sexual diversity is a mandatory part of the curriculum only for primary schools and the lower years of secondary schools', says National Rapporteur Rijken. 'This being despite the fact that it is older teenagers, in particular, who often experience sexually transgressive behaviour at an age when they are developmentally in a phase of exploring relationships and their own sexuality.'
Appropriate support needed after sexual violence has taken place
The National Rapporteur says it is essential that appropriate support is provided for child victims of sexual violence. 'The interest of the child must be the starting point. Once a child becomes a victim, the help provided must meet the specific needs of victims and be tailored to the problems they experience.'
Victims are also unsure on where to find specialist support and what support is on offer. 'That support is not always available, and the provision of support is fragmented', says National Rapporteur Rijken. 'A national point of entry could help to ensure that victims find their way to the right place and receive the support they need.'
Forensic medical examinations of children under pressure
The National Rapporteur is concerned about the present safeguards regarding forensic medical examinations of children in the Netherlands. During a forensic medical examination, a forensic medical examiner examines the victim and collects physical evidence for potential criminal proceedings. National Rapporteur Rijken: 'It is crucial that the adverse impact on children of such an invasive examination is kept to a minimum and that evidence is collected as effectively as possible. This requires specific expertise, the level of which must be maintained.'
The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) performed this task at the national level until March 2022, but is no longer able to do so because of a shortage of medical examiners. The Landelijk Onderzoeks- en Expertisebureau FMO (LOEF) was set up to take on the task for the time being, but this is only a temporary arrangement.
'At the moment, there is no solution that will guarantee quality on a long-term basis', says Rijken, 'and that is worrying because forensic medical examinations can provide hard evidence in criminal proceedings.' In 30% of cases where the evidence gathered during a forensic medical examination was examined, the DNA of the suspect was found on the body or clothing of the victim.
Awareness is growing
Fortunately, there is also some good news to report. Social awareness around sexual violence and sexually transgressive behaviour has grown in recent years. Rijken: 'This is an important development, because it is an uncomfortable truth that sexual violence is everywhere.'