Netherlands: Half of honor-violence victims also sexually abused

Netherlands: Half of honor-violence victims also sexually abused

Honor-related crime victims are sexually abused more often than previously thought. That is one of the most remarkable conclusions of a study by the social services organization Fier Fryslân.

Of the 89 women who turned to Fier Fryslân between January 2008 and March 2010, 45 were sexually abused by family members, sometimes by several people.

Fier Fryslân, which is running an an honor-crime shelter pilot for the Justice Ministry and the VWS, published the results in a publication named "Daughters of Zahir". Zahir is the name of the shelter for victims of honor-related violence. The book will be presented Tuesday.

Of the 45 sexually abused girls, 52% were abused by a cousin, 22% by a brother and 20% by an uncle. 8% were abused by their father, 2% by a stepfather, and 2% by an acquaintance.

Zohra Acherrat-Stitou, a psychiatrist working for Fier, was very surprised that it happens at all, and then that it happens so often. "You don't' expect that in cultures in which family honor and virginity are so important."

Because they didn't expect such thing, the social workers weren't so alert for it. The girls don't tell of such things so quickly, since the shame is so great. For most families, as long as they don't speak about it, it didn't happen. Some girls cautiously started talking about it after they were in the shelter for a long time.

It quickly became clear that these young women needed a special shelter and specialist knowledge that didn't judge from a Western perspective. And more shelters are needed: both shelters (Fier's and another in the southern Netherlands) are completely full. Fier Fryslân don't have enough place for a third of the girls who turn to them.

Girls who don't get in, go to less specialized shelters. It's not ideal, since that trans-cultural thinking is important. Social workers who call the family to tell them where their daughter is, make the situation worse. Acherrat-Stitou: "We also call, but only to say that the women are safe in an anonymous shelter. Only when we, after a risk-assessment, know what's going on, and if we decide that mediation is feasible, we approach the family."

Acherrat-Stitou: 'The girls mostly really want to return to their family, despite everything. Breaking up with your family causes poignant pain. It also means: breaking up with your background, everything you know, your school, girlfriends, in order to start a new life somewhere completely different. And at such a young age. In such 'we cultures', where autonomy and making your own choices is of secondary importance, it's drastic. The women want to belong to a group, be connected. That is a universal, an existential basic need."

The title of the book refers to a letter that the girls wrote to their counsels. They signed "lots of love from your daughters'. It touched the social workers. Some girls keep in touch with their counsels after they leave the shelter, says the psychiatrist. "It's beautiful, but also poignant. Women at this age should go on with their live and make new friends."

Anke van Dijke, manager of Fier, says it's important to speak about the problem within the community. It's difficult, she says, but 50 years ago it was also a disgrace in the Netherlands to get pregnant if you weren't married. Things can change, and that will happen. The girls are in the process of emancipation, and the community must ask itself: how do we protect our daughters.

Source: Volkskrant (Dutch), h/t NRP

See also: Netherlands: 13 honor murders a year