National frameworks in Austria

1. Legislation
2. Law enforcement and protective orders
3. Support for victims
4. Preventive measures
5. Data and research
6. Collaboration with international organisations

1. Legislation

National laws

The Austrian legal framework has seen a shift in its approach to domestic violence since the introduction of the First Violence Protection Act (Gewaltschutzgesetz – GewSchG) in 1997. The GewSchG must be understood as a part of larger consorted efforts to rehaul the Austrian approach to domestic violence “from a private matter” to a criminal matter. Since the 90s, criticism of the prevailing approach to domestic violence in Austria contended, that the removal of women from their homes in cases of domestic violence was untenable. As it stood, this would further infringe upon the rights of the victims, while delegating inter-familiar conflicts to a purely private matter.1 Consequently, the GewSchG introduced three pillars: the entry and approach bans, the temporary injunctions, as well as the Violence Protection Centres. The first two items are discussed in “Law enforcement and protective orders” and the last in “Support for victims”. Suffice it to say, that the act brought about changes to the handling of domestic violence by police and courts, as well as the provision of support to victim-survivors of domestic violence.

The shift brough about by the GewSchG is accompanied and implemented by amendments to the penal code (Strafgesetbuch – StGB), the Security Police Act (Sicherheitspolizeigesetz – SPG), the General Civil Code (Allgemeines Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – ABGB) and the Enforcement Order (Exekutionsordnung – EO). While not exhaustive, notable protective, preventive and supportive measures include the introduction of police powers addressed in “Law enforcement and protective orders”, to the provision of support, in part discussed in “Support for victims”, as well as institutional routines, as detailed in “Preventive measures”. The approach set forth in the First Violence Protection has been further elaborated on with a Second Violence Protection Act in 2009, as well as Second Violence Protection Act in 2019.

Legal definition

The Austrian Penal Code does not include a dedicated section on domestic violence. Instead, forms of violence associated with domestic violence have been criminalised individually. As such, general provisions applying to general violence can be found. There are, nonetheless, in parts of the penal code that directly or indirectly relate to domestic violence. As will be discussed below, Section 107b StGB, while not exclusively applicable to domestic violence, has been seen framed as directly combating it.2 There are also some offences that include provisions regarding frequency, such as aggravated assault according to Section 84 para. 3 StGB. Besides this the penal code does account for aggravating factors in Section 33. This explicitly also entails offences against life and limb, personal freedom or sexual integrity and self determination committed by certain types of intimate partner relationships (Section 33 lit 2. StGB). The relationships listed include spouses, former spouses, partners, and cohabitating persons.

The Austrian legal framework differentiates between various types of crime, that to some degree align with different types of violence also present in intimate partner relationship. It includes amongst others, the following relevant categories3: criminal offences against life and limb (Strafbare Handlungen gegen Leib und Leben), criminal offences against personal freedom (Strafbare Handlungen gegen die Freiheit), as well as criminal offences against sexual integrity and self-determination (Strafbare Handlungen gegen die sexuelle Integrität und Selbstbestimmung). Besides these, notable sections are present under other categories not mentioned here.

Criminal offences against life and limb

The penal code has numerous articles addressing physical forms of violence, that might be relevant to domestic violence. It criminalises general acts of murder (Section 75 StGB), homicide (Section 76 StGB), assault (Section 83 StGB- 88).

In regard to assault, the Austrian Penal Code differentiates according to the severity of the assault, as well as its victim. Assault can fall into the following categories: Assault (Section 83 StGB), unintentional (Section 84 StGB) and intentional aggravated assault (Section 87 StGB), assault leading to long-term impairment (Section 85 StGB), as well as assault with fatal consequences (Section 86 StGB). Assault by the perpetrator is thus prosecuted based on the relevant offence. This can at times include specifically named offences, such as instances of FGM. FGM is referred to under Section 85 StGB lit. 2a on aggravated assault.

Furthermore, criminal neglect of minors or a defenceless person according to Section 92 StGB is also included under offences against life and limb. Addressing the abuse of minors or partners with mental or physical conditions.

Criminal offences against personal freedom

Just as with violence, the penal code also lists and itemises various offences that would entail offences against personal freedom. Relevant for domestic violence, amongst others, could be the deprivation of liberty (Section 99StGB), kidnapping of minors (Section 101 StGB) or defenseless Person (Section 100 StGB). Furthermore, coercion (Section 105 StGB), aggravated coercion (Section 106 StGB), forced marriage (Section106a StGB), are criminal offences, relevant to domestic violence.

Adding to this long list are offences are Section 107a StGB and 107b StGB.

The Section 107a StGB addresses and penalises stalking of victims, including stalking by partners/former-partners. The first step in this regard was taken in 2006, with the criminalisation of “beharrliche Verfolgung” (Stalking). Since then, the law has seen a number of iterations. The latest introduced 2019. As of 2024, Section 107a StGB includes provisions related to physical stalking, as well as via tele-communication technologies. It includes a variety of stalking modes, including making “facts or pictures of the most intimate aspects of a person’s life without their consent” public, as well as inciting third parties to reach out to a victim, as vell as hiring goods and services on behalf of a victim without their consent.

In 2009, Section 107b StGB “Fortgesetzte Gewaltausübung” (lit: Continuous abuse) was introduced into the penal code. The offence, listed under offences against personal freedom, prosecutes those, who “across and extended period of time continuously perpetuate violence” against another person.

Criminal offences against sexual integrity and self-determination

Where sexual violence is part of the abuse experienced within an intimate partnership, general provisions on criminal offences against sexual integrity and self-determination apply. In particular, this entails rape (Section 201 StGB), sexual coercion (Section 202 StGB) and infringing upon sexual self-determination (Section 205a StGB). It deserves mentioning, that rape also criminalises sexual acts under the influence, where domestic violence entails sexual abuse involving the use of drugs.

Furthermore, other sexual offences are in part criminalised in other sections of the penal code. This includes, as mentioned above, the taking of intimate pictures or video materials without a victims consent under Section 107a StGB, as well as continues infringing on a person’s sexual integrity and self-determination under Section 107b StGB.

Others

Given the complexity of domestic violence, as well as the various types of abuse that can define the violent relationship, it is difficult to give a comprehensive overview of all the relevant sections of the penal code that can pertain to the various forms of abuse.

As was discussed in more detail in D1.2, abuse is not solely physical in nature. Interviews with victims have highlighted, how perpetrators can leverage social status and power asymmetry to damage the reputation of, as well as inflict psychological pain to their victim. Furthermore, abuse can entail excessive controlling behaviour by the perpetrator, termed coercive control. In this regard, the penal code includes several sections that criminalise “criminal offences against personal dignity”. These types of offences, unlike the aforementioned physical and sexual offences, as well as offences against personal liberty, are not “Offizialsdelikte” and must be prosecuted by the victims, as they are not automatically prosecuted by the state. They can include the following relevant sections of the penal code: Section 111 StGB on slander and Section 115 on insult. Additionally, the unlawful access of information is also to some degree criminalised, such as in Section 118a StGB.4 Nonetheless, information on the success of criminalising coercive control and other non-violent or sexual forms of abuse is sparse.


2. Law enforcement and protective orders

Specialised units or protocols

In Austria, the so-called GiP officers have been in operation for several years. GiP stands for “Gewalt in der Privatssphäre” (“violence in the private sphere”). There are around 960 GIP officers throughout Austria. They are responsible for all forms of violence in the private sphere, i.e., not only violence in intimate relationships, but also for violence against relatives for example. However, the focus is on violence in intimate relationships. The central task of the GiP officers is to support colleagues in the field who can turn to these GiP officers in the course of or after operations due to violence in the private sphere. GiP officers also offer victims of violence the possibility of an information and counselling session. The GiP officer system has been expanded in Vienna. Due to the large number of approach and entry bans imposed, there exists a dedicated GiP support team. The members of this team support intervening officers on site from the back office, for example in risk assessment by carrying out a background check on the endangering person (e.g., whether an approach and entry ban has already been imposed in the recent past).

Furthermore, the Federal Criminal Police Office has its own department for crime prevention and victim protection, whose tasks include the Austria-wide coordination and improvement of victim protection.

In a narrow sense in Austria, there is no standardised protocol for intervening in cases of intimate partner violence or for assessing victims’ risk of further exposure to violence. Rather, there are often different risk assessment tools and intervention practices in the different federal states, which are only standardised to a limited extent. This also has to do with the frequency of interventions and offences in the context of domestic violence. While in larger cities this such cases are reported more frequently and officers therefore have more experience with the topic, there are fewer interventions in rural areas. Whether this is due to underreporting, or an actual lower prevalence is unclear. In a broader sense, however, there is a standardised intervention in Austria insofar as protection against violence and domestic violence are an integral part of police training and police intervention usually involves the audit of the imposition of an approach and entry ban, which is linked to legally stipulated requirements, that need to be checked for.

Types of protection orders

In Austria, the law provides for four different protection orders that are specifically intended in connection with violence in close relationships. The police can impose an approach and entry ban independently and without judicial or prosecutorial authorisation in accordance with Section 38a of the Security Police Act (“Sicherheitspolizeigesetz”, BGBl. I 124/2021). This is valid for 14 days and prohibits the so-called endangering person (“Gefährder”, i.e., the person suspected of having used violence or using violence in the near future) from entering the endangered person’s home and actively approaching them within a distance of less than 100 metres.

In addition to the approach and entry ban the Austrian legislation provides three court protection orders.

  • Interim injunction for protection against violence in homes in accordance with Section 382b of the Enforcment Code (“Exekutionsordnung”, BGBl. I 136/2023)
  • Interim injunction for general protection against violence pursuant to Section 382c of the Enforcement Code
  • Interim injunction for protection against interference with privacy pursuant to Section 382d of the Enforcement Code

These interim injunctions can be filed by the endangered persons independently or with the help of violence protection centres, the police or a lawyer at the competent district court.

The interim injunctions for protection against violence in the home serves to protect persons who live in the same household as the endangering person and for whom further cohabitation is intolerable due to a physical attack, the threat of a physical attack or due to the significant harm to mental health caused by the behaviour of the endangering person.

 Another prerequisite is that the endangered person is dependent on the home, i.e., it serves to satisfy the urgent need for housing.

If an interim injunction is applied for within two weeks of the imposition of an entry and approach ban, the entry and approach ban is extended to a maximum of four weeks.

The interim injunction for protection against violence in the home can be issued for a maximum of six months and prohibits entry into the home and return to and stay in its immediate vicinity for this period.

The interim injunction for general protection against violence serves to protect persons who, due to a physical attack, a threat of such an attack or behaviour that significantly harms their mental health, cannot reasonably be expected to meet the perpetrator.

The court can ban the endangering person from certain places for a maximum period of one year and order them to avoid meeting and/or making contact with the endangered person.

The interim injunction against interference with privacy is primarily intended to protect against stalking, i.e., to prevent interference with privacy. For a maximum period of one year, the court can, for example, prohibit the endangering person from making personal contact (by telephone, in person, in person, etc.) and from pursuing the endangered person, from staying in certain places, or from passing on and disseminating personal information, data or images relating to the highly personal sphere of life, honour or privacy of the endangered person.


3. Support for victims

For victims of domestic violence, Austria has a variety of institutions in place. Many of which provide general support to victims of violence, including victims of domestic violence.

One of the largest such providers of general support are the Gewaltschutzzentren, Victim Protection Centres. These have been put in place with the First Violence Protection Act 1997 and serve as a central pillar to Austria’s approach to combating domestic violence. They aim to improve the provision of support activities and the prosecution of violence on the client side, by providing constant aid throughout the legal and support process. As such, they help clients make use of any legal means, as well as further support offerings. While they are mandated federally, they are organised on a state-by-state level. The usually consist of one central office with local offices, as well as mobile units; to provide localised support to victims of violence.

More specific support services are also available. This includes first and foremost the women’s shelters. The network of women shelter in Austria is largely decentralised, with various shelters being run as part of larger networks, associations, and organisations. Examples are the autonomously federated shelter’s under the AÖF (Autonomous Women’s Shelter Austria) and the ZÖF (Association of Austrian Women’s Shelters). Given the decentralised nature of the shelters, the Federal Chancellery manages a list of women’s shelters across Austria. As of 2023, there appears to be a gap in the coverage of shelter and safe house needs for female victims of domestic violence, as well as domestic violence victims at large. As such, Austria fails to reach the target number of one family shelter per 10.000 inhabitants as set by the Istanbul Convention. As of 2021 data, Austria has 750 shelters available, 135 shelters behind target numbers.5 This is corroborated by AÖF reporting, which for 2022 listed that 64% of cases where shelter could not be provided, were due to insufficient shelter space amongst AÖF shelters.

As of 2011, hospitals are also legally required to provide support to victims of violence, especially victims of domestic violence. This was enshrined in the Federal Act on Hospitals and Rehabilitation Facilities (“Bundesgesetz über Krankenanstalten und Kuranstalten”, KAKuG, Section 8e)6. It stipulates the creation of Victim Support Groups (Opferschutzgruppen)7 in hospitals with sufficient staff, with alternative options to provide support for smaller hospitals. The aim of the OSGs is, on the one hand, to recognise domestic violence at an early stage given the low barrier to entry for victim-survivors. This can make the medical sector a first entry point into the support systems. On the other, the OSGs seek to raise awareness of the issue among the relevant professional groups. This would work to further strengthen the capacity of the medical sector to address victims’ needs.

Furthermore, Austria has in place a few low-threshold support offers via telecommunication. This includes a hotline for women who are experiencing violence available under 0800 222 555. Furthermore, there is an online platform for female victims of violence available at HelpCh@t.

Lastly, non-domestic violence specific support is also available via the numerous specialised NGOs throughout Austria. These are largely local institutions specialised in various fields, from certain vulnerable groups to specialised forms of abuse. For example, there are organisations in place to aid LGBTQI victims, victims of FGM, victims of human trafficking, migrant victims, and so on. These organisations often work in cooperation with other support providers to fill in gaps, provide training and sensibilisation for professionals, etc.

Regarding counselling and/or psychological support needs of victims, they are in part addressed by the aforementioned support services. As such, the social workers available at the Violence Protection Centres, as well as the women’s shelters provide counselling for victims. Furthermore, some on the specialised NGOs offer therapy and/or counselling as well, such as Courage and Zara.

Besides this, psycho-social support for victims who go to court is also available, as stipulated by Section 66b para. 2 Criminal Procedure Code (Strafprozessordnung – StPO). Psycho-Social Court Assistance (PSCA) is meant to ensure that the rights of the victims are safeguarded during the entirety of the legal proceedings, which is known to pose various risk for victims. PSCA is made available to all victims of violent crimes, dangerous threats and sexual offences, as well as any relatives of homicide victims8, according to Section 66b para. 1 StPO. It also includes victims of terrorist acts9, stalking10, incitement11 and various forms of slander12.


4. Preventive measures

One of the larger prevention projects in Austria was also launched in 2019 by the Autonomous Austrian Women’s Shelters based on the German model, namely the violence prevention project “StoP – neighbourhoods without partner violence“. The project, which was also supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, aims to involve neighbourhoods in violence prevention and raise awareness of partner violence. By creating neighbourhood initiatives and setting up neighbourhood action groups (e.g., women’s tables, men’s tables), StoP aims to establish networks that provide individuals with resources to prevent violence by intervening when they perceive threatening situations, showing civil courage and not concealing or tolerating partner violence. StoP now exists in all nine federal states, and in some it has even been implemented in several places.

In addition to this community work, StoP also repeatedly organises educational and awareness-raising campaigns.

In addition to the annual “16 days against gender-based violence“, which are held internationally, the Federal Ministry of Inner Affairs launched the #sicherzuhause campaign in autumn 2023. The aim of the campaign was to provide more detailed and thorough information about the possibilities of protection, especially by the police, and counselling in cases of domestic violence.

In addition to such nationwide actions and campaigns, there are repeated attempts in the diverse federal states to raise awareness of the problem. In Vienna, the 2021 campaign „Halt! Zu mir!“ (“Stop! Stand by me”). Similar to “StoP”, this aims to strengthen civil courage in connection with violence against women. In this regard, it is addressing the Viennese population with tips on posters and in video adverts designed to strengthen their ability to act safely and with civil courage without endangering oneself. In Burgenland, there exists an action plan against violence since 2023, which lists existing and future measures to protect against violence in the areas of family, education, the workplace and in public and digital spaces.

As some of the examples cited above (such as the StoP campaign) show, the federal and/or regional governments repeatedly supports the efforts of NGOs. There are also some direct subsidies or support contributions, for example for the Autonomous Women’s Shelters, which are supported by the Federal Chancellery, the City of Vienna and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, among others.


5. Data and research

This sub-chapter provides a brief introduction into the status quo of data and research in Austria. For a more detailed list, see the Austrian Entry on National data.

Ongoing research

Information on currently ongoing research on causes and effects of domestic violence in Austria is not available. This is not to say that no such research is conducted. Instead, past research efforts indicate to the contrary. Recent examples include a study on femicides conducted by Haller et al (2023).13 The study looked into police statistics and court files to analyse femicides in Austria. It created victim and perpetrator profiles, as well as contrasted information on the relationship of the perpetrator and victim, including intimate partnerships.

Another notable example is a recent prevalence survey conducted by Statistik Austria.14 The survey looked into violence as experienced by women aged 18-74, concluding that 16,41% of Austrian women between the age of 18-74 years have experienced physical and/or sexualised violence in intimate relationship.

Regular reporting

Information on domestic violence is published regularly by several different institutions. Statistical data on the number of Approach and Entry bans according to §38 lit. a SPG are regularly reported by the police. Likewise are criminal statistics, thou domestic violence has not been, as of now, a dedicated reporting subject in police statistics. While the data included information on the gender of the victims, as well as the relationship between victim and perpetrator, specific numbers on domestic violence are still missing. Nonetheless, a special issue report on the topic of femicides was published in 2021.

Regular reporting is also being done by support institutions. As such, the AÖF collects data on femicides using publicly available news reporting. Additionally, the AÖF publishes yearly activity reports of all the associated women’s shelters. Other regional women’s shelters also publish reports on their regional activities, such as the “Frauenhäuser Wien” (Women’s shelter Vienna). Consequently, data on the women’s shelters in Austria remain disjointed, given the lack of regular centralised data collection and reporting efforts. It should be mentioned, thou, that irregular efforts have taken place to centrally collect and evaluate such data.

Notable are also the annual activity reports by the state-level Violence Protection Centres. While their reporting varies in the level of detail and information includes, it provides annual figures on their support efforts. Nonetheless, given that details at times are lacking for some centres, and that these institutions provide general support to victims of violence, exact numbers on domestic violence can be difficult to ascertain.


6. Collaboration with international organisations

Austria hosts the headquarters and is one of the important financial supporters of the WAVE Network (Feminist Network for the Promotion of Human Rights of Women and Children), which is one of the largest EU networks dedicated to combating violence against women and their children and comprises over 170 member organisations in 46 European countries.

In Austria, annual campaigns are organised at both federal and state level as part of the “16 days against gender-based violence“. The federal government also took part in the UN “Orange the World” campaign in 2017 and 2023. In addition to that, Austria included general protection against violence, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Austria, like other European states, has ratified the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Istanbul Convention Action against violence against women and domestic violence, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and incorporated them into national law.


Sources

  1. Rosa Logar “Einführung – Österreichische und internationale Maßnahmen zur Prävention von Gewalt an Frauen und ihren Kindern in der Familie.” in: Bundeskanzleramt Frauen. (2007). 10 Jahre Österreichische Gewaltschutz Gesetze. ↩︎
  2. Bundesministerium für Inneres (2023): “Gewaltschutzbericht 2020 – 2022↩︎
  3. Relevant, as in often perpetuated in the context of domestic violence. Given the wide variety of abuse, domestic violence can come in many forms, as such, relate to various different criminal offences. ↩︎
  4. It should be noted, that there has been criticism voiced regarding the applicability to domestic violence, given the formulation of the law, such as here. ↩︎
  5. According to the Equality Index by the Städtebund. ↩︎
  6. BGBl. I 69/2011; latest version: BGBl. I 79/2022. ↩︎
  7. The OSGs, in cooperation with state institutions, run an online platform available here. ↩︎
  8. As defined by Section 65 para. 1 lit. a and b StPO ↩︎
  9. As defined by Section 278c StGB ↩︎
  10. As defined by Section 107a StGB and 107c StGB ↩︎
  11. As defined by Section 283 StGB ↩︎
  12. This can range from Section 111, 113 and 283 StGB. ↩︎
  13. Haller, Birgitt; Eberhardt, Viktoria; and Temel Birgitte (2023): “Untersuchung Frauenmorde – eine quantitative und qualitative Analyse” ed.: Intitut für Konfliktfroschung. ↩︎
  14. Statistik Austria (2023): “Geschlechtsspezifische Gewalt Gegen Frauen in Österreich 2021”. ↩︎