People might show off and post happy pictures of their baby, husband, lovely garden and everything else on Facebook. And they might also send pictures of their most gorgeous smile with a windmill in background – “Love from Holland!”
But behind closed doors, who knows if this seemingly happy person is not just another victim of a family drama too shameful to be shared?
Domestic violence abroad
Domestic violence is a plague that affects people from all cultures, all social classes and all levels of education. Expats, international travellers or “knowledge migrants” are far from being immune from it.
Quite the contrary: geographic distance from former friends and relatives, isolation and the lack of a local support network, difficulty in understanding and trusting foreign social and health systems, and sometimes the loss of an individual income can seriously aggravate a victim’s situation.
While expatriation makes many couples stronger, it can also have an inverse effect on others whose relationship deteriorates with time and under stressful circumstances. An angry and frustrated partner can soon become an abuser and the “nice” partner becomes a victim unable to find ways to get out to safety – or unable to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
Once abroad, it becomes more difficult for a victim to understand what’s going on in their relationship and under their roof, because the familiar environment is gone and their definition of normality is blurred. It’s harder to find someone to talk to, harder to find help, harder to find legal information and, eventually, harder to get the strength to decide to get a divorce.
It takes enormous courage to ask for shelter when you risk being killed or losing your children. There are almost no words that can describe the terrifying feelings victims go through when facing the possibility of losing their lives or seeing their children kidnapped and disappear abroad – a threat that abusers often use to keep their partner under control.
Links for victims of domestic violence
Here are several helpful links for the victims of domestic violence living abroad, starting with information regarding domestic violence help centers in the Netherlands, followed by links to international websites for hotlines in other countries and general information on this issue.
In the Netherlands
Victims (slachtofferhup) of domestic violence (huiselijk geweld) or people who suspect or have witnessed it have many resources.
This phone line is free of charge. Use it only when the situation is immediately threatening (e.g. you are stuck in a room and your abuser is next door threatening you, or you hear a violent argument nearby).
› Domestic Violence Hotline
For less urgent issues (e.g. you are currently in a safe place but you need help with a habitual situation of violence or abuse, or you are an acquaintance of a person whom you suspect to be a victim and would like to ask questions) there is a hotline called Huiselijkgeweld Meldpunt (domestic violence hotline).
The telephone number is 0900 1 262626. The call costs a few cents per minute and is open only during office hours. Their website can be found here (in Dutch).
Even if you don’t read Dutch, you can try their page listing local points of help in the Netherlands. Click on your region to find the address of an office where you can go and talk about your issues to people who have long experience with abuse and domestic issues.
The Blijfgroep provides information, support and safe (anonymous) shelters to people in need of protection and assistance. Their website provides information in Dutch and in English.
Photo by Flickr user Helga Weber
› Slachtofferhulp Nederland
Another local website dedicated to domestic violence. Their website is in Dutch too.
For men who are victims of abuse, the hotlines mentioned above are also relevant.
For children and teenagers, the same hotlines will also provide specific information. In addition, a lot of systems are in place for witnesses of violence or children to call for help.
› Children’s Hotline
In the Netherlands, children and teenagers can call the children’s hotline for any issues they face, or they can read about their issues and chat in forums dedicated to children on this special website. The hotline is 0800 0432 (free of charge) and is open every day from 2-8pm.
General information & outside the Netherlands
If you are unsure whether or not the domestic issues that you are a victim of or witness to are abuse, here is a good description of the typical signs of abuse and the general “cycle” of abuse in which victims are trapped.
More general information is also available in other languages (and also in English) on Women’s Aid.
Excellent and detailed tips for women who have concerns for a friend and need to know how to help, to what extent they should “push” their friend to leave or respect their choice to stay in a difficult relationship, can be found in this reply to a letter on Expat Women.
Other useful websites are listed on Womenshealth.org.
Abuse towards men is more rare and rarely places the victim’s life in danger, therefore it’s less discussed. But help for men is also available: if you are or a relative is concerned, more general information about this issue can be found here.
For victims and their friends or family: if you are a victim, remind yourself that you should not keep your concerns a secret.
Being a victim of domestic violence happens to people irrespective of their intelligence, level of education or mental health! It can happen to most of us.
Do not think it’s shameful and so please, do ask for help. Remain hopeful. This has happened to many people before you and there is a lot of information and help available to get all family members out of this situation safely.
If one of your friends or relatives is stuck in an abusive relationship, remember that it could be dangerous to share this page with her via email: her communication by phone or computer can be traced easily.
Get in touch with the victim face to face and help her by calling the hotlines with your own phone; or even better, accompany her to the local help centres.