In the Netherlands, a woman is murdered every eight days, a total of 40 to 50 women per year. Cora’s daughter, 21-year-old Nathalie Polak, fell victim to femicide in 2018. 46-year-old Gerard van D. killed her by hitting her head with full bottles of liquor. Her body was found after a fire in her apartment, tied to the bed and with a plastic bag over her head. “He was just after my daughter,” says Cora to RTL Nieuws.
Nathalie had no relationship with her killer, Cora knows. They knew each other well; he was the stepfather of a friend. Nathalie would have made it clear to Van D. that she was not interested in him. “That night he fulfilled his own needs.”
Cora does not know how he entered her apartment on the night of December 31 to January 1, 2018. Gerard van D. has been sentenced on appeal to 12 years in prison and TBS with compulsory treatment for manslaughter. According to Cora, the punishment is not enough. She especially fears that he will eventually be back on the street: “If someone like that is released, it will start all over again.”
Power position man
Is this a case of femicide? There is sometimes ambiguity about what exactly it means and when you can speak of it. Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history, defines it as ‘one of the most extreme forms of gender-based violence’. This is violence based on someone’s gender, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression. Women and people from the LGBTI community are more often victims of this.
Femicide often involves a position of power held by the man and/or the man exercises control over the woman. Consider, for example, a woman who cannot escape from an unsafe relationship. If a relationship does end, a woman is even more at risk of becoming a victim of violence.
The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) does not register murders of women by (former) partners as femicide. And that while six in ten women who died of violence in the Netherlands between 2017 and 2021 were murdered by their (former) partners. According to Atria, the actual number is probably even higher. “A shocking, violent pattern is visible,” an Atria spokesperson told RTL Nieuws.
“We need more knowledge and awareness about the term femicide,” says the spokesperson. Scientific research is particularly important in this regard. The media and CBS should also use the term femicide, so that the ‘violent pattern’ can be clearly mapped out.
‘Gender neutral policy’
In the Netherlands, a ‘gender neutral policy’ is used for murder, says the spokesperson. This means that no distinction is made between the murder of a man or a woman. The spokesman calls that ‘harmful’. “The motives for murdering women are almost always different from the motives for murdering men.”
Atria advocates a ‘gender-sensitive’ policy, which takes into account the social differences between men and women. “By taking gender into account in policy, and thus the unequal power relations between men and women, we can hopefully recognize and prevent the signals surrounding femicide at an early stage,” says the spokesperson.
For example, the police should immediately sound the alarm if a woman reports that she is being harassed by an ‘ex’.
Every time news comes out about a woman who was killed by a man, Cora thinks about her daughter Nathalie. “Then you think: there is another one. It was not necessary.”
The perpetrator, Gerard van D., would already have had a history of assaulting women, arson and violence before the murder. According to Cora, women who reported him were not taken seriously enough. “In my eyes, the police have failed,” she says. “As a woman you are just screwed. You almost have to hide yourself.”
She hopes femicide will be taken more seriously. “Every time the murder of a woman is in the news again, it is again discredited until it subsides again. All those reactions from people are of little use, something has to be done with it.”