Domestic violence

Each year, about 1.2 million people in the Netherlands become the victim of one or more forms of domestic violence. The damage this causes is considerable, as equally the complexity of the underlying problems. Tackling domestic violence requires both an integral approach and sufficient knowledge.

Knowledge for policy and practice

By providing knowledge, the ZonMw research programmes contribute to supporting professional practice and provide tools to improve and safeguard the approach to child abuse and domestic violence, and to render this approach sustainable. The studies partly answer the research questions stated in the research agenda. With funding from ZonMw, research is done into, among other subjects, child abuse, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, elder abuse, high-conflict divorce and harmful (traditional) practices. The last projects will be completed in 2024.

Results of recent research

What is domestic violence?

We understand domestic violence to be all forms of physical and mental abuse in domestic situations. This includes child abuse, partner violence, elder abuse, female genital mutilation, suppression, neglect and sexual violence.

Child abuse

Scientific research is of immense value for improving the approach to child abuse, which is important because the abuse of a child has dramatic, often lifelong consequences. Therefore, we support professionals with knowledge that helps them in their daily work practice if they encounter child abuse. You can read more about how this help is provided on the page Child abuse.

High conflict divorce

In 2021, 25,962 marriages in the Netherlands ended in a divorce. If a divorce results in prolonged conflicts between parents and makes them lose sight of the welfare of their children, then this is referred to as a high-conflict divorce. Children can experience the possible consequences of this. For example, they can experience stress, develop loyalty problems or lose contact with one of the parents. Programmes have been developed to minimise these consequences and help prevent a divorce from becoming complex and, if this cannot be prevented, to offer help in case a divorce does become complex. During the training ‘ScheidingsATLAS [Divorce ATLAS] parents who are going to divorce or have divorced are helped, for example, to develop a new form of parentship. In 2021, this project received a ZonMw Pearl due to its low threshold and the preventative character of the training and its impact on parents.

Furthermore, with funding from ZonMw, the kennisplatform Kind En (Echt)Scheiding (KEES) [knowledge platform Children and Divorce] was developed. On this platform, information is shared about tools to assess, and tools are developed to assess, the divorce situation and to lead people in the direction of appropriate help at an early stage.

Help for women

Many women in the Netherlands experience domestic violence. One in five women have been physically abused by a partner or ex-partner at some point in life. About one in ten women have experienced sexual violence by a partner or ex-partner.

Partner violence

Women who experience or have experienced partner violence often find it difficult to talk about this and to seek help. They are scared for the consequences should their (ex-)partner find out. They do not know which help is available or they are not aware that they are the victim of partner violence. In the research project SAFE, the website has been developed and researched. This online resource helps women who experience or have experienced domestic violence. 

Refugee women

Sexual and gender-related violence, such as rape, partner violence and human trafficking, pose an ongoing threat for (young) refugee women, in particular. This applies both during and after their flight. Pharos has developed a method that facilitates conversations with refugee women about sexual and gender-related violence.

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) (forbidden under Dutch law) is an operation on the external female sex organs without there being a medical need for this. In the Netherlands, there are almost 41,000 women who have been circumcised and about 4200 girls are at risk of being circumcised. Professionals in prevention, medical care and safety care often have little knowledge about FGM. Research has been done into the practical implementation of policy concerning FGM. Research is also being done into making FGM a subject that can be talked about. And research into restorative care is being carried out.

(Sexually) transgressive behaviour and sexual violence

Regrettably, sexually transgressive behaviour occurs in many different settings, at home, at work and in healthcare. No less than 50% of women and 20% of men have experienced physical sexually transgressive behaviour. It is a major problem in society. Consequently, the National Action Programme Tackling sexually transgressive behaviour and sexual violence has been set up.

Victims of sexual exploitation

What does proper help for victims of sexual exploitation look like? That has been investigated in two projects. One of the projects mainly focused on the effectiveness of treatment, while the other focused on the success factors of a proper approach to the trajectory. Both studies show that the living climate and safety are important. During a meeting, the results were discussed with the help of five themes: support network, future perspective and follow-up care, awareness and detection, experiential expertise and the provision of treatments.

Transgressive behaviour among people with a mild learning disability

Perpetrators of sexually transgressive behaviour are relatively often people with a mild learning disability (MLD). Research in the Dutch provinces of Groningen and Friesland revealed that a “perpetrator treatment” for young people with an MLD is effective and that there are no indications of a relapse in their behaviour. In addition, people with an MLD also have a higher chance of being a victim of transgressive behaviour. Therefore, in another project, the detection instrument 11VB has been developed. This identifies young people with MLD who have a higher risk of becoming a victim of (sexual) exploitation.

Elder abuse

Elder abuse is a form of domestic violence that one in twenty older persons experience. The victim often denies the abuse and it is not always recognised by the people around them. Besides physical and psychological abuse, elder abuse includes sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Detection tool

In a research project of HAN University of Applied Sciences, a detection tool was developed. With this, physicians and nurses at casualty departments are helped to quickly and effectively identify elder abuse. The detection tool, the EldeR Abuse ScalE (ERASE), is available for casualty departments but other care organisations can also use it.

Experiential expertise and deploying people’s own experience

Increasing use is made of experiential expertise in both research and professional practice. Experiential experts are also closely involved in the ZonMw research programme ‘Violence does not belong anywhere’, for example in assessing grant proposals. Within the programme, they were brought together in the Reflection Group. In the Dutch manual ‘Samen Deskundig’ [Shared Expertise], members of the Reflection Group explained the boundary conditions and how a good collaboration with experiential experts can be given form. The manual was produced together with Movisie and the Netherlands Youth Institute.

In a research project of TNO, the use of personal experience on the work floor was investigated. An important condition for using personal experience is that it must serve the client and may only be used if mutual trust exists. It is also important that people have processed their own experience sufficiently.

Domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was suspected that the number of reports of domestic violence would strongly increase. However, the Dutch study ‘Stay home, stay safe’ revealed the opposite. There were no indications of more reports of domestic violence at the Dutch hotline for domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse ‘Veilig Thuis’ [Safe at home]. But in that period, the number of reports made by non-professionals did increase. For example, neighbours made reports more often.

Family-focused approach

Domestic violence is often associated with other problems in a family, such as threats to the development, youth care, divorce, psychological problems, poverty, unemployment and addiction. That being so, the entire family, family system and all individuals in the family should be examined in domestic violence cases.

Connection between adult mental healthcare and youth care

Psychological problems of parents and the deployment of youth care for children often occur in a single family. Therefore, effective collaboration between institutions in adult mental healthcare and youth care is necessary to provide proper care to families. However, effective collaboration is often difficult to realise due to organisational structures, legislation and different sources of funding. For this reason, pilots will be carried out to experiment with this collaboration, and an overarching study will also be conducted.

Violence does not belong anywhere

Research into domestic violence is funded from the ZonMw programmes ‘Growing up safely’ and ‘Violence does not belong anywhere’. Our research programme ‘Violence does not belong anywhere’ has emerged from the Dutch government action programme ‘Violence does not belong anywhere. This programme aims to reduce domestic violence and child abuse, limit the damage caused by this and thus break the vicious circle of violence passed on from one generation to the next. This programme has now been included in the future scenario Child and family protection.