In Australia, coercive control – in other words a severe form of psychological violence and restriction of freedom – is now punishable by law. Offenders can face up to seven years in prison. Various educational programs are also being launched to better understand how these mental forms of coercion actually work. In France, mental forms of coercion have been punishable for some time, namely since 2010 and in England since 2016.
Dutch politicians are sleeping
The Netherlands can learn from how France and England are now doing prevention and education. The more society understands how psychological violence works, the sooner we can identify such abuses together. And the more people we can protect against the destructive and degrading – sometimes even fatal – consequences.
Meanwhile, Dutch politicians seem to be sleeping and not just in July and August… The decision-makers are incredibly naive, possibly even laconic, with regard to the extent to which individual suffering – including a lack of self-determination – occurs in the Netherlands. Individual suffering in the short and long term in a lifetime. Especially within closed-up systems, including the various religious communities. And with regards to the impact of the abuses and that suffering on the collective.
I just wrote ‘possibly even laconic’, because these decision-makers know in any case that the consequences of psychological violence cost the Netherlands at least 1 billion euros per year. Currently, more than 1 million people are using antidepressants. And they know that municipalities and authorities in the Netherlands have to deal with infernal dilemmas due to the closed-up, religious clusters, including harmful traditional practices.
Politicians also know that international bodies criticize the Dutch approach to mental forms of coercion, because isn’t it a matter of common sense and common decency that damaged people damage others? No higher science in the domains of humanistics, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, neurology, psychology or psychiatry is needed to understand that. All that is required is human involvement, beyond self-directed or administrative and financial interests.
Just a report without concrete consequences
Well yeah. The political decision-makers do have scientific research carried out into the advantages and disadvantages of a separate criminalization of psychological violence, but without going any further. A report on the possibilities offered by our existing legislation to prosecute psychological violence. Possibilities that are extremely limited, if only because filing a police report due to mental forms of coercion is a bottleneck. So it remains to be seen where this report will lead in concrete terms.
After the summer recess, it is therefore about time to increase the pressure and once again, to ask Dutch politicians ‘urgently but kindly’ to criminalize mental forms of coercion, or psychological violence, as soon as possible. I would like to invite our political decision-makers to prioritize this item and let us know what to expect.
My own experience with religion and domestic violence
Let me also become personal, because in the personal there is inexhaustible power and clarity. I have built a life of radical transparency and narration and I use pieces of my life for change.
In my autobiography Exodus from the lighthouse, I write about the first twenty years of my life, characterized by, among other things, religion and domestic violence. I barely write about the perverse narcissism and sadism I endured in my teenage years. When I was eighteen, I left with the intention of never returning. Ten years later, I went back a couple of times to investigate. We have also shown few of these themes in the series Exodus, the Apostate on KRO-NCRV. That was a conscious choice.
For example, I am fortunate that I have been able to deal with it exceptionally well for most of my life due to an analytical ability. As it unfolded, I knew I was worth more than that and cried out indignantly as those words were thrown at me. Words that should have destroyed me on the inside. Almost as if my voice protected against the poison and couldn’t let it in that way. My voice as a rescue. As a result, my physical integrity was undermined in such scenarios.
Throughout my twenties, I built a life from scratch and eventually achieved success. Life served as proof that none of that poison of my childhood had become a reality. No more was needed. Social life looked well, and the sketches of the life I drew didn’t match the picture engraved in my inner self by those poisonous words. With my PTSD, I did something constructive by focusing on the stories of others.
Biologically childless felt like failure
However, when I became, as I call it, biologically childless as a result of the start of my life, it was as if the traces of the trauma suddenly became visible after a while. Because not having a child biologically felt like the biggest, existential failure and aligned with the poison. Especially as a Jewish woman who is responsible for passing on that identity, because that’s how I was programmed.
In addition, I realized that the longer life lasts, the greater the risk of failure and gain by that poison. It took years of self-study in this area to understand in detail how people can do such things to others. Getting rid of it completely has always been the ultimate goal, as of other transgenerational patterns. That’s why I didn’t want to go back after being eighteen and that’s why I still support that decision. I’m free 98 percent of the time. But sometimes…
It is no coincidence that I have become a real ‘knowledge hurdler’ since 2012 and like to feed my brain for a few hours a day with the most beautiful, enriching and healing works. It is also no coincidence that a mountain of wisdom has accumulated within me, a 37-year-old woman. Moreover, it is fortunate – I would say a miracle – that I am mentally very strong and that I have not inherited any of these disorders biologically from family members.
Spiritually, I call it mind building, is my specialty. I am able to confront and shine light on dark yet timeless themes. In other words, themes that remain highly engaging and relevant. But no mistake: that peace only came after a period of inner struggle. Movements in which the poison could cause beautiful, ugly or indifferent things in the here and now and having to redirect again and again.
Many victims cannot handle mental torture
I would like to protect people from the intensity of those inner processes. I know that some people can handle those inner processes. But let’s be honest: there is also a large group of us that simply cannot do this (independently), for example because people are not spiritually built for it. In particular, these movements cost an enormous amount of time in a human life. Time that will never come back. And time, dear political decision-makers, is humanity.
Time to intervene once and for all, for example by criminalizing psychological violence. Because, on the basis of the Convention on Human Rights, the European Court rightly categorizes psychological violence as a form of torture. Believe me, it is at least a form of mutilation of the inner human. And the time that could have been saved by not having to straighten these mutilations is quality of life. And quality of life in this context equals freedom.
The Dutch version of this article was published via EW Magazine.