Mayors too hesitant to use restraining orders in domestic violence cases

Over the past years, mayors in the Netherlands imposed too few restraining orders in cases of domestic violence. In only between 3 and 12 percent of police reports of this type of crime, a domestic violence restraining order is issued, according to researchers from the Verwey-Jonker Institute who looked into the use of domestic violence restraining orders in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, RTL Nieuws reports.

Domestic violence is a persistent problem in the Netherlands, with an estimated 200 thousand victims and 30 deaths per year. Domestic violence most often involves a partner or ex as the perpetrator. Women are more often victims than men, especially in cases of structural violence. 

The domestic violence restraining order is a tool available to mayors since 2009. They can ban the aggressor from their home and contact with their partner and children for a "cooling off period" of 10 days. This period can be extended if necessary by up to 18 days. Violation of this restraining order is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Aid workers and the police consider this type of restraining order to be a powerful tool in the fight against domestic violence - it is direct protection for the victims, while help is arranged for all family members, including the aggressor. 

In the first year that the domestic violence restraining order was implemented, over 2 thousand such restraining orders were issued nationwide. By 2013, this increased to 3,500. But from 2014, the number decreased. Looking at the four large Dutch cities, the Vewrey-Jonker Institute researchers concluded that major reorganizations within the police and healthcare played a major role in the decrease.

When the police were reorganized into the National Police in 2013, the specific attention for domestic violence decreased, the researchers found. The same happened when many of the central government's care responsibilities were shifted to municipalities in 2015. VeiligThuis was established, and this changed the procedure to issue a domestic violence restraining order. 

"Even though there has been an increase in the four cities since 2017, we are not back to the old level," researcher Katinka Lünnemann said to the broadcaster. "Capacity problems with the police and care providers make it difficult to initiate and continue a restraining order procedure. It also has to do with insufficient knowledge among police officers and care providers about when you can use a restraining order." 

According to the researcher, a striking number of care providers don't know that they can request a temporary restraining order, even if no crisis situation was reported to the police. "Care workers can also request a temporary restraining order if there is a suspicion of serious and immediate danger. That is not being used enough yet."