Homophobic aggression on the rise
The Dutch pride themselves on having a very tolerant attitude towards homosexuals, but new research by the police shows that attacks on gay men and lesbians are still a serious problem in Dutch society.
Florens Tas of the Politieacademie (Police Academy of the Netherlands), which contributed to the report, says homosexual men and women are confronted with different types and degrees of abuse:
"Physical attacks, people being threatened, shouted at, that sort of thing, and also discrimination on the internet. You see that the youngsters are participating in the shouting and cursing, and saying nasty things about their friends on the internet".
Mr Tas adds that incidents are rarely reported to the police. Three quarters of those who are being discriminated against, homosexuals as well as other groups, don't bother to report such incidents to the police or talk about them to anyone else. As a Politieacademie researcher, it is not surprising that he hopes this sort of research will create a little more confidence in the police. "They do take these things seriously," he says.
Most attacks by natives
According to reports in the Dutch media, many attacks on gay and lesbians are carried out by young immigrants. But the recent report shows that only 15 percent of the perpetrators are non-native. René van Soeren of the Dutch organisation for gays and lesbians, COC, says he is not surprised by these findings.
The COC is getting signals from its own community that - in the Netherlands' bigger cities in particular - these crimes are indeed very often committed by people from an immigrant background. But in the rural part of the country, which is the larger part, they're mostly perpetrated by native people, Mr Van Soeren says.
"And we've always stressed in our communications that we're not getting the real picture, that the focus is on what happens in the big cities, and on immigrant citizens committing these crimes. In the general perception, and also in the media, the focus is far too much on immigrant people being the perpetrators of homophobic crimes."
This has been illustrated only recently by the following cases. Two weeks ago two lesbian women were harassed in their neighbourhood by [Dutch-]Moroccan boys, and this got a lot of attention. A few months before that, however, there was an incident in a small rural town, where two elderly gay men had been harassed for a couple of years by young local boys - all of them native Dutch - and that didn't get much attention at all.
Not accustomed to gays
What is the underlying cause of the homophobic insults, threats and attacks? The COC thinks there might be some relation with people's cultural background, but most of it has to with young people having trouble with homosexuality, and with rural areas not being accustomed to openly gay people.
The Netherlands has long had a reputation of being very tolerant towards gay people. These reports seem to suggest this tolerance might not be as big as many Dutch people would like to think.
"We live in an illusion about our tolerance. We are very smug about that. We think we're very tolerant, but we do consider homosexual behaviour to be something private, not openly shown. What people really want that all people, even gay people, act as straight as possible. So our tolerance is very super[-ficial]."
Johan van Sloten
26 November 2008