Module 4: Police investigation and legal proceedings

1. Dynamics and behavioural patterns in domestic violence
2. Police intervention in cases of domestic violence
3. Children and adolescents affected by domestic violence
4. Measures for victims with a migration background
5. Measures for victims with impairments and disabilities
6. Measures for elderly people as victims
7. Stalking in the context of domestic violence
8. Legal considerations


Welcome to Module 4 on “Police investigation and legal proceedings”. This module addresses the dynamics and behavioural patterns present in cases of domestic violence, shedding light on the complexities faced by frontline responders, including law enforcement. Cases of domestic violence demand careful intervention and management from police officers and legal practitioners, as they navigate through challenging scenarios with the aim of ensuring the safety and well-being of victims and their children. Throughout this module, we will delve into various aspects of police investigation, including police intervention strategies, as well as specialised police measures tailored for victims with diverse backgrounds and needs. Module 4 presents the legal considerations and proceedings surrounding domestic violence cases. It equips professionals with the necessary knowledge to navigate through the legal landscape.

Learning objectives
+ Recognise the dynamics and behavioural patterns in cases of domestic violence
+ Learn about effective police intervention strategies in cases of domestic violence
+ Explore specialised police measures for victims with diverse backgrounds and needs
+ Gain insight into legal considerations and proceedings related to cases of domestic violence

Of note, the learning materials are not tailored to the needs of every country; they include generic cases that will need local adaptation.

Key characteristics of domestic violence1:

  • There is an emotional bond between perpetrator and victim, often enduring spatial separation.
  • Violence typically occurs out of sight, within private spaces. Especially when the home is the scene of the crime, victims no longer feel safe there. A shared residence is not a prerequisite for domestic violence.
  • Victims often feel trapped, unable to find a way out.
  • The physical, sexual, and/or psychological integrity of the victim is repeatedly violated by the perpetrator’s actions.
  • The perpetrator exploits an existing power imbalance with the victim.
  • The expectation of social, psychological, and emotional support in a close relationship makes domestic violence especially devastating, as the violence comes from someone the victim assumes to be supportive. This can make the experience harder to admit. Additionally, the victim may be economically and socially dependent on the perpetrator, increasing their vulnerability.

Please click on the crosses to get more information.

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Domestic violence is usually not a one-time event but a cycle of recurring actions and behaviours that lead to repeated violent escalations. This creates a “violence spiral” that goes through the same phases repeatedly.

Find more information about the forms and dynamics of domestic violence in Module 1.

Scenario: Man threatens to kill his wife

On November 19, 2011, at 9:27 pm, the emergency call centre received a call. The caller identified himself and stated that he was going to kill his wife He mentioned that he was at home, which led the police to dispatch a patrol car to the location. Upon arrival, the police officers interviewed the man, who explained that he and his wife had disputes about their shared apartments and weekend properties. He also claimed that he was being constantly harassed by his wife and her current boyfriend. He threatened that if the officers did not resolve the matter immediately, he would go to her home and kill her. He repeated this threat several times. The man is already known to the police for previous incidents of domestic violence.

Especially during separations, the risk of severe physical injuries up to homicides increases. The most important basis for assessing the risk situation is the victim’s subjective perception of the threat.

Learn more about risk assessment and safety planning in Module 5.

Case study: Domestic violence increases in severity over time

Spring 2016

Family F. has been living with two small children in their own apartment for a short time when Mr. F. became unemployed. Mrs. F. is able to scale-up her office activities; she is working from home since she is self-employed, and thus, she can ensure that the loan on the house can continue to be paid off. She notices how much her husband suffers from the situation and supports him as best as she can.

August 2016

The situation between couple F. has become very tense in the meantime. Since the children have been in the day-care centre during the day, Mr. F. uninhibitedly unleashes his disappointment and anger about the turning-down of his job applications and related financial issues by criticising and humiliating his wife.

Mrs. F. suffers so much from the accusations that she proposes marriage counselling. She has great hope that everything can be improved. She feels that her husband has changed in his behaviour completely, but she firmly believes that he will be back to his old self if he can find work again.

To Mrs. F.’s surprise, Mr. F. reacts violently to her suggestion to get help and strikes his wife in the face. Mrs. F. is desperate but considers this to be a one-off slip.

October 2016

Slaps in the face, shaking and bumps are now part of the weekly routine. Mrs. F. defends her husband’s behaviour from herself, hides it from others and hopes for improvement through a new employment of her husband.

August 2017

Over the summer, the situation has relaxed a little with the children at home during the summer holidays. Mrs. F. is hopeful because her husband is now also starting to work short time.

September 2017

Mrs. F. can breathe a sigh of relief during the day because her husband is out of the house. In the afternoon and evening, she spends every minute with the children, and also mostly sleeps with the children at night; she almost convinced herself that the children have problems falling and staying asleep and that at least her husband has to sleep through.

December 2017

Mr. F. is once again unemployed and from one day to the next he resumes to the old pattern of accusations, humiliation, and assaults against his wife.

A poster in the day-care centre draws Mrs. F.’s attention informing her that there is a hotline that gives advice to women who are exposed to domestic violence. The advertisement seems familiar to her, she must have passed it countless times. But for the first time, she connects it with herself. However, she does not consider her situation serious enough that she would need help for herself.

February 2018

The incidents of domestic violence occur at shorter intervals, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Mrs. F. to explain or hide her erratic and desperate behavior, her broken relationship and her numerous injuries from her family, her circle of friends and her children’s social environment. She withdraws more and more.

September 2019

The F. family is now almost completely isolated: their social environment at first reacted more and more uncomprehendingly to the many cancellations, becoming increasingly disappointed and irritated as disputes arose. Finally, their environment withdrew with resignation. Many attributed the situation to the family’s noticeably tense financial situation and assumed that everything would be the same when this difficult phase was over.

After a particularly violent incident of physical assault in the bedroom in the evening, which Mrs. F. suspects the children may have heard, Mrs. F. calls the nationwide help line for violence against women. It helps her to have someone who listens to her with understanding.

October 2019

Again and again, Mrs. F. calls the hotline after incidents. Finally, she also asks to be referred to a local advice centre and comes under increasing pressure because she realises that her children now also know and understand more than she would like them to know. Nevertheless, the step to filing a complaint and/or a separation seems impossible for Mrs. F.

From another mother from her neighbourhood, Mrs. F. learns that the police also advise citizens anonymously. She has never been in contact with the police, she has great respect and rather little trust that someone there could understand her situation. Nevertheless, she finally calls her districts’s victim protection officer with a suppressed telephone number. Surprised to be informed calmly, not to be condemned or pressed to report the case, she finally takes more courage. The police’s advice made her all the more aware of what she actually knew long ago: there is no easy way out and her family life is too disrupted to continue hoping for change. At the same time Mrs. F. is aware that she will never have the strength to oppose her husband alone or to pronounce the separation.

November 2019

Mrs. F. is accompanied to the police by her counsellor from the women’s facility and files a complaint. Her counsellor has informed the police about this case in advance and so a police officer, who is trained for cases of domestic violence and has already dealt with a large number of such cases, takes up her complaint. Her counsellor stays with her the whole time. During the interrogation, in which the officer proceeds very carefully and emphatically, Mrs. F. senses that there is apparently a relationship of trust between the counselling centre staff and the police officer, which makes it easier for her to report her ordeal. The police officer also asks her about her current and her children’s current situation of danger. Mrs. F. cannot assess the situation and is afraid of confrontation with her husband. She is informed about her rights as a victim, the further course of the criminal proceedings and the police protection possibilities. The police officer informs the youth welfare office about the situation with Mrs. F.’s knowledge.

Mrs. F. takes the courage to call her brother from the police station and informs him of the situation. He immediately leaves his workplace to take her and the children in overnight.

After the report was filed, Mr. F. was visited by the police and expelled from the shared flat. Mr. F. appears completely surprised and extremely angry to the police officers. He cannot believe that he is being expelled from the flat. After he has been made aware of the legal situation and has received information from the police officers about emergency shelters as well as counselling possibilities, he firmly agrees to stay away from his wife and children until further notice.

Mrs. F., supported by her counsellor in the women’s protection centre, takes the opportunity to apply to the Family Court for a protective order.

December 2019

During the three-week police investigation, Mr. F. exercised his right to refuse to give evidence and was represented by a lawyer. Mrs. F. is able to conclusively demonstrate the longstanding violent relationship in her renewed interrogation; again, she is accompanied by her advisor from the women’s protection agency. A hearing of the children is waived due to their age. After the release from medical confidentiality, medical documents from Mrs. F.’s family doctor are included in the procedure, which substantiate the information provided by Mrs. F.

After completion of the investigation, the police will send the criminal complaint to the competent department of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for cases of domestic violence for further decision.

A family court will decide on the rules of contact concerning the couple’s children. In later court proceedings, Mr. F. is convicted of multiple bodily harm and is instructed to take part in anti-violence training.

Research shows that police officers are often frustrated by the behaviour of victims, the operation of criminal courts, their department’s operations and their informal processes, and the complexity of applying the law.2 Often, they spend valuable time trying to motivate a victim of domestic violence to leave his or her abusive relationship, and at the same time a crime report cannot be filed on the victim’s request.

In Module 9 you will find information on how frustration and stress at work can lead to burnout and vicarious trauma and why self-care is important in such cases.

The management of police operations in the event of domestic violence must be carried out on a case-by-case basis, but is fundamentally characterised by the following objectives:

  • Defence against danger to life and limb, freedom of persons and/or property
  • Taking consistent action against the troublemaker/suspected offender
  • Ensuring evidence-proof prosecution
  • Information on counselling options for victims and suspects
  • Prevention of further acts of violence against persons

The following video illustrates the police’s work in cases of domestic violence:


The term “primary aggressor” refers to the individual who poses the most serious and ongoing threat to safety and wellbeing. While the term “primary” aggressor might imply the presence of “two” aggressors, in many or most situations, violence is perpetrated solely by one person. In some situations, it can be challenging to determine whether a person is the perpetrator or if they are in need of safety and protection from such violence. For instance, adults in an intimate relationship may claim to be experiencing violence from each other. It is important to remember in these situations that domestic violence involves an ongoing pattern of power and coercive control, distinct from relationship conflict.

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There are a number of issues to explore when trying to determine who the primary aggressor is:

  • Context: Identify the behaviours within the context of a pattern of systematic power and control. What happened before and afterwards? Where did the violence took place?
  • Intent: Assess why the violence was used. Was it to pre-empt worse violence or to punish?
  • Effect: Determine the impact on the victim. Does the victim feel scared?
  • Agency: Explore the extent to which each person can make decisions for themselves. Victims often report being excluded from decision-making or having their preferences disregarded.
  • Assertion of will: Examine what happens when there are differing wants or needs in the relationship and how, if at all, compromises are made. Assertion of will refers to doing what one wants regardless of the other person’s wishes.
  • Empathy: Victims of violence often make excuses for the perpetrator and empathise with them. Perpetrators typically lack empathy for their partner’s emotional experiences.
  • Entitlement: This attitude, stemming from a lack of empathy, allows someone to assert their will over another. Victims are less likely to exhibit entitlement thinking and often downplay the violence against them.
  • Fear: Controlling behaviours instill fear. Assess the extent of a person’s fear, what they are afraid of, and how this fear affects their behaviour and daily life.
Indicators of the primary aggressor

There are no definitive indicators, but a person may likely be the primary aggressor if he or she:

  • critically demeans his or her partner out of righteous anger rather than fear.
  • appears overly calm and confident, showing no fear of legal consequences.
  • is overly charming or charismatic.
  • has a history of intervention orders, arrests, or convictions related to domestic violence.
  • discusses the incident vaguely and generally, with details inconsistent with known facts.
  • has injuries more consistent with being the aggressor, such as scratches on his or her arms and hands.
  • exhibits a sense of ownership, entitlement, or obsession about his or her partner.
  • criticises the ‘system’s’ (for example, courts, police) response to domestic violence.
  • focuses on his or her rights being violated rather than the violence he or she experienced.
  • regards children as his or her property, believes his or her children need to show respect and to be ‘taught lessons’, and is unable to focus on their needs.
  • tries to manipulate the assessor into believing he or she is the injured party.
  • evades questions and attempts to control the conversation.
  • leaves the assessor feeling manipulated through verbal persuasion.
  • appears to have power and control over his or her partner.
  • has a secondary motive, such as a family court matter or an affair.
  • denies any wrongdoing and takes no responsibility for the situation.
  • lacks empathy for his or her partner’s emotional experiences.

There are a number of ways that a person may be misidentified as the primary aggressor:

  • Assuming both are equally violent or equally at risk: It is very uncommon for both people in an intimate relationship to be using and experiencing violence of equal severity, risk and consequences.  There are rare situations where the violence is mutual, with both people using violence against each other (apart from when the victim using violence to defend himseld or herself).
  • Misidentifying the victim as the perpetrator: Where victims are using violence in self-defence or to prevent an impending attack, to defend children or others, or as an act of resistance or retaliation they are often misidentified as the primary aggressor. The risk of identifying the victim as the perpetrator is increased when the victim does not want to identify themselves as the victim. This can lead to a number of consequences for the victim including further isolation, losing the care of his or her children, increased use of coping mechanisms like alcohol or drug use, difficulty accessing services or reporting future violence, and an increased risk of harm.  
  • Misidentifying the perpetrator as the victim: This can occur when the victim engages in act of violence in self-defence or to prevent an impending attack, to defend children or others, or as an act of resistance or retaliation.  In such cases the primary aggressor can use the victim’s violent act, and any injuries sustained as a result of this violence from the victim, to hide their own abusive and violent behaviour. In these situations the perpetrator may be referred to inappropriate victim-focused services, may gain confidence and increase the severity of violence or children may be placed in danger

In many cases of domestic violence, the police are often the first point of contact for those affected. They have to implement their legal mandate to prosecute the offence in question and prevent further offences, as well as carry out victim- and offender-oriented measures.

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The following guiding principles must be taken into account in particular:

  • In every case of domestic violence, the police intervene quickly and consistently. In some European countries, police are mandated to act in cases of domestic violence even if the victim does not file a report, as it is considered a public-order crime.
  • The police intervention ensures effective and comprehensive protection, assistance and counselling for the victim. Police officers can ensure the privacy and dignity of the victim by using unmarked police cars to transport them to a safe location, such as a previously authorised family member’s house, to avoid secondary victimisation.
  • In every case of domestic violence, the risk of recidivism is assessed and, in high-risk cases, suitable measures are introduced to minimise the risk of violence. A high-risk case is always to be assumed if people subjectively feel threatened by serious violence or a homicide by their (ex-)partner or other relatives and there are actual indications of this threat.
  • The offender is made aware of the punishability of his or her actions.
  • If a criminal offence has been committed, the consistent preservation of evidence and prosecution is of particular importance, even if the victim has not yet filed a criminal complaint.
  • The police deal with children and adolescents present in a responsible and appropriate manner. Some European countries have established specialised units for the care of children to address the unique needs of young victims.
  • The police adapt their approach to the respective operational situation and, if necessary, take into account the migration background, disability and age of the victim.
  • The police work closely with governmental and non-governmental institutions, such as public prosecutors, youth welfare offices, intervention centres, marriage, parenting, family and life counselling centres, child protection services, shelters, conflict counselling centres for perpetrators and other regional institutions.
  • The police ensure ongoing basic and advanced training to further qualify and sensitise police officers to the phenomenon of domestic violence.
  • The police carry out targeted and appropriate public relations work on the subject of domestic violence and present the work of the police to the outside world in a transparent manner.

Overall, the principle of investigating and helping rather than just mediating should apply when dealing with cases of domestic violence. In some European countries, mediating between the victim and the perpetrator is prohibited by law.

Consistent police intervention should help to change the way society views domestic violence. It should be made clear to the perpetrator that his or her behaviour is socially condemned and will never be respected. Victims should be shown ways of breaking the cycle of violence and be offered help and counselling.

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The rapid arrival at the scene, a protective and respectful approach and the provision of help are perceived as consistently positive by those affected. The perceived lack of interest and trivialisation of the situation leads to criticism towards the police.5

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Scenario: Entering an apartment after emergency call

The victim, children of the victim or neighbours send an emergency call, and patrol officers enter the apartment.

Possible answers
  • The very first step: ensure the necessary safety measures for all intervening and present persons
  • First aid measures
  • Emergency call to medical emergency service (depending on the severity of the injury and, if necessary, the victim’s consent)
  • Information on the rights and obligations of victims/perpetrators/witnesses, the course of proceedings
  • Separate questioning of victims/perpetrators/witnesses
  • Preservation of evidence and documentation
  • Reference to the possibility of documentation of injuries (by police, doctor, or violence protection ambulance)
  • Victim protection talk
  • Approach to endangered persons
  • Risk assessment
  • Signposting of the offender
  • Prohibition of approach and contact for offenders
  • Detention of the offender
  • If minors are involved: inform the youth welfare centre about the incident
  • Dissemination of information about support services (NGOs, public sector) for victims/offenders/relatives, for example by telling the victim that the police usually pass on the victim’s contact information to the victim support service. This way it is easy for the victim to give consent to the matter and the victim will be contacted by the support service, and do not have to call there themselves.
  • Placing victims in the help network, e.g., through a proactive approach
  • if necessary, transfer of the victim to shelter

Find specific information on how to talk to victims of domestic violence in Module 3. The interaction between police officers and victims is influenced by gender-specific attitudes and biases. This may result in misjudgements caused by stereotypes on domestic violence. Learn more about stereotypes and unconscious bias in Module 8.

Case study: Man as a victim of domestic violence

4:34 p.m. Argument in the parking lot of a shopping mall

An outcry from Mrs. E. is audible when her head hits the roof of the car above the driver’s entrance. Passers-by then notice a loud argument and scuffle between the couple. When the couple gets into the car to start driving, a driver blocks them with her vehicle. Mr. E. then flees.

4:37 p.m. Emergency call at the emergency control centre

One of the bystanders calls the police.

4:50 p.m. Police car arrives on scene

The report of Mrs. E. and the witnesses cannot fully clarify what happened. Witnesses say that they have seen that Mr. E. was violent towards Mrs. E. HOWEVER, Mrs. E. said that they had merely argued, whereupon she got into the car frantically and injured her head. They continued to fight afterwards and wanted to drive home but were prevented from doing so. Mr. E. had probably fled in panic, because of the violent verbal attacks by bystanders.

The police officers took down the statements and personal details of the witnesses and of Mrs. E. During this process, Mrs. E. is also asked questions which serve to assess the danger of being attacked again. Mrs. E. refuses a medical examination and is informed of the possibility of having her injury documented in a violence protection outpatient clinic in the following days in a legally secure, cost-free and, if necessary, anonymous manner. After Mrs. E. has been informed about her victim rights, one of the two policemen sensitively addresses the issue of domestic violence and points out the possibilities of specialised counselling and the proactive approach. Mrs. E. listens to these hints and the explanation of police protection options (judicial protection order according to the Protection against Violence Act, approaching endangered persons, expulsion, accommodation in a women’s shelter), but remains firm that everything is fine at home. She refuses any support and the information flyer offered to her. Since the overall circumstances indicate a case of domestic violence, the police officers inform Mrs. E. that they are initiating an investigation against her husband for physical injury and hand her a victim protection leaflet with the police’s case number.

Mrs. E. finally makes her way home alone and, because of her head injury, by public transport.

7:14 p.m. Emergency call in the control center

An emergency call is received at the control centre from neighbours due to disturbing noise in Mr. and Mrs. E.’s apartment.

7:35 p.m. Police intervention in the apartment of couple E. 

Two police cars arrive at the address of the couple since the afternoon’s operation and the address of couple E. are already stored in the police system. The police officers assume that there could be another incident of domestic violence. The police crew entering the apartment immediately see that the couple and Mrs. E.’s mother are intoxicated. When questioned separately, all three parties trivialize the incident and state that they were upset that Mr. E. had fled in the afternoon, leaving his wife alone with the police and a head injury. As there are no visible injuries either to Mr. E. and Mrs. E.’s mother, and there are no concrete indications of a criminal offence, those present are urged to remain calm and are informed that if the police are called in again, a report of an administrative offence will be made for disturbing noise.

9:44 p.m. Emergency call in the operations centre

Again, an emergency call from the neighbours for disturbing the peace. The neighbours say, “Things are really getting lively next door. I think they’re having another one of their problems.”

10:10 p.m. Police action at the home of couple E. 

Due to the suspicion that this is a case of domestic violence, two police cars arrive again. Among them are police officers from the previous operation in the apartment of family E. They find that the degree of alcohol intoxication of couple E. as well as of Mrs. E.’s mother seems to be much higher compared to the previous visit. Furthermore, all those present show traces of blood, injuries to hands, arms, and face. Mr. E.’s injuries are particularly serious.         

Once again, all three persons are heard separately, whereby Mrs. E. and her mother state that Mr. E. began to become violent towards them and they had to defend themselves.

Mr. E. breaks down crying in front of an official and says that he could not stand the violence by his wife and mother-in-law which had been going on for years and that he did not know what else to do that evening but to become violent as well. In spite of his strong intoxication, Mr. E. appears credible and provides conclusive information about the crime and the violence to date.

Mrs. E. and her mother are confronted with the information provided by Mr. E., whereupon they react verbally in a very aggressive manner, and both want to attack Mr. E. in order to “show him what it means to spread such lies about them”. Further violent assaults on Mr. E. can be prevented by the police forces deployed.

Mr. E. wants to leave the apartment and can only be accommodated in a homeless shelter due to the lack of a special accommodation for men as victims of domestic violence. He would like to contact a counselling centre for men affected by domestic violence the very next day and have his injuries documented in an outpatient violence protection clinic. In contrast to Mrs. E. and her mother, he agrees to immediate medical treatment of his injuries. To treat his injuries, Mr. E. is driven to the nearest hospital by an ambulance car. From there, he goes to the emergency shelter on his own. Once again both women reaffirm that they only “had to defend themselves” against the attacks of Mr. E. As a result, the police assesses the risk of Mr. E. becoming the victim of violent assaults by his wife and her mother again as very likely.

In the following days and weeks

In the course of further investigations, the witnesses of the first argument in the parking lot and a neighbour of the E. family are questioned by the police. Mr. E. makes an extensive statement to the police, in which he again describes the development and successive increase in violence against him, as well as his fear that someone may discover that he is a victim of violence in his relationship.

The forensic medical report of the violence protection outpatient clinic is also included in the investigation, which supports the course of events as described by Mr. E. Mrs. E. and her mother only make statements regarding the criminal charges of assault against Mr. E. In doing so, they stick to their original version that Mr. E. caused the escalation of violence but become entangled in contradictions which are documented. With regard to their charge of grievous bodily harm against Mr. E., both make use of their right to refuse to give evidence.

Mr. E. seeks advice from a specialised counselling centre for men affected by domestic violence. He is granted the sole use of the marital home.

After four weeks, the police investigations are concluded with the result that Mr. E. has apparently been a victim of violence by his wife and her mother for years. Both incidents are sent to the Special Department for Cases of Domestic Violence of the District Attorney’s Office for further decision.

Interventions in cases of domestic violence are, like a large number of police-relevant situations, difficult to standardise in terms of the measures to be taken. An intervention usually follows a violent offence.

Scenario: Victim files a complaint without any current incident

The victim comes to a police station and files a complaint without any current incident.

Possible answers
  • Clarification and recording of the facts: Who is the perpetrator? How many incidents of domestic violence have there been? Over what period of time? In what intensity? etc.
  • Search for possibilities of subsequent preservation of evidence: Were there witnesses? Were there visits to the doctor? Are there confidants? Is there evidence in another form?
  • Information about rights and obligations, the course of proceedings
  • Risk assessment and, if necessary, initiation of the protective measures that appear necessary (with reference to the offender, for example: addressing the perpetrator, expulsion, prohibition of approach and contact, detention; with regard to the victim: victim protection talk, shelter if necessary)
  • Dissemination of information about support services (NGOs, public sector)
  • Mediation into the aid network, e.g., through a proactive approach

Both the perpetrator and the victim are in an exceptional psychological situation. This can lead to completely atypical and irrational behaviour. The aggression may also be directed towards the police officers who arrive. The police may take the following measures6:

Victim-orientated measures
  • Personal contact with injured parties/victims
  • Spatial separation of the parties involved
  • Preventing the perpetrator from influencing the victim
  • Documentation of spontaneous statements by the victim
  • Documentation of the crime scene (e.g., destroyed home furnishings)
  • Identification of witnesses in the area of perception
  • Meaningful documentation of injuries with the possible involvement of forensic medicine (e.g., photos)
  • Physical examination of the victim by a doctor
  • Use of the form for consent to the disclosure of personal data (doctors’ declaration of confidentiality)
  • Examination of a high-risk case and, if necessary, initiation of appropriate measures
  • Questioning witnesses and initiating criminal proceedings (utilising the victim’s willingness to testify)
  • Informing the victim about the legal possibilities
  • Referral to intervention centre or other support facilities (e.g., women’s shelter), victim protection officer
  • Handing out available information material on support services
  • Transmission of counselling needs to the responsible intervention centre with the consent of the victim
  • If children are present, notify the youth welfare office immediately in all cases
  • Accompaniment to the shelter or child protection service in case of increased risk assessment
  • Accompaniment to the home in case of increased
    risk assessment
Perpetrator-orientated measures
  • Implementation of necessary measures to avert danger, taking into account proportionality (e.g., expulsion, expulsion from the home, preventive detention)
  • In the case of expulsion from the home: information about the type, scope and duration of the expulsion, possibility of taking everyday necessities with you, securing the keys to the flat, naming the new postal address
  • Instruction as the accused and questioning of the accused
  • Documentation of facts that support the risk prognosis
  • Realisation of criminal procedural measures (e.g., search, seizure of evidence, blood sampling, arrest)
  • Handing out information material
  • Transmission of the need for counselling to the responsible offender counselling service with the person’s declaration of consent
Perpetrator work

In order to effectively combat domestic violence, perpetrators must come to terms with their violent behaviour, which is usually only possible with professional help. For this purpose, there are counselling centres for perpetrators of domestic violence. In long-term counselling processes, a non-violent approach to relationships is developed. The work with perpetrators is geared towards ending violence in the long term by changing their behaviour. It has a preventive effect and thus serves to protect victims.

Violence between parents is an extremely stressful situation for children and adolescents. If domestic violence is reported to the police, police measures should also be orientated towards the children and adolescents present. They need age-appropriate explanations about the steps taken and the police action. If minors live in a household where there is violence between the parents, this is often witnessed by them.7 In addition to witnessing this, however, they often become victims of direct physical and/or psychological violence themselves. This can also lead to neglect and thus jeopardise the child’s welfare.8

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Children and adolescents who experience violence within their family show a variety of reactions to the behaviour they have experienced. These can be:

Reactions from affected children and adolescents
  • They believe they are to blame for the prevailing situation.
  • They alert the police or neighbours out of fear.
  • They try to keep the father/mother back in order to protect the mother/father and are abused themselves as a result or become involved in the conflict.
  • They take on the role of parents within the family, sometimes also for their siblings.
  • They are overwhelmed by their parents and are functionalised as the only source of comfort and contact.
  • They avoid expressing their feelings and experiences.
  • They protect their parents. (“They do not want to be the son of a criminal.”/”They do not want to lose their parent.”)
  • They no longer recognise their parents as authority figures.
  • They lose their bond with their parents because they do not understand their behaviour.
  • They avoid contact with friends within their home environment.
  • They adopt their parents’ behaviour.
Consequences for children and adolescents9,10,11,12

Observed and experienced violence significantly impacts children and adolescents, leading to emotional, physical, and cognitive impairments. Persistent violence can cause trauma, manifesting as sleep disorders, difficulties in concentrating, depressive moods, increased irritability, or aggression. Severe injury or death of a parent can disrupt the child’s entire life. Domestic violence also affects learning problem-solving patterns and can lead to future violent behaviour and experiences. Consequently, children and adolescents suffer a significant loss of quality of life, social integrity, and development opportunities.

The accumulation of such experiences is linked to problematic substance use, suicidality, post-traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile delinquency. These experiences increase the risk of further victimisation. In children who have endured multiple victimisation experiences, especially related to sexual violence or parental abuse, the risk of new victimisation increases up to seven times compared to those without such histories. Witnessing domestic violence between parents quadruples the risk of new victimisation experiences.

The cumulative effect of these experiences profoundly impacts the mental health and overall wellbeing of children and adolescents, significantly increasing the likelihood of further victimisation and associated challenges.

Find more information about the impact of domestic violence on children and adolescents in Module 2.

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Children and adolescents often judge situations of domestic violence as a tension in which they find themselves between their parents and, in the event of police intervention, also towards the police officers. Sometimes they try to keep the “family secret”. As they do not have all the information at their disposal, they perceive the situation particularly intensely, so that police measures against their parents can have a threatening and frightening effect on them. Due to the exceptional psychological situation in which the parents find themselves, it is no longer their responsibility to look after the welfare of their children and to give them sufficient attention and the necessary understanding. It is therefore important that the intervening police officers orientate their actions towards the children and adolescents present as soon as possible after the situation has stabilised.

Your behaviour should be characterised by13:

  • Protection from further danger, achieving a calming effect
  • Personal introduction and age-appropriate communication and making contact
  • Addressing children and adolescents on “the same level”, squatting down if necessary
  • Child-appropriate and age-appropriate description of the situation, the operational situation and the objectives of the police operation
  • Possible avoidance of the use of direct coercion against parents when a child is present
  • Consideration of the special requirements when hearing a child; in particular, the right to refuse to give evidence and maturity of mind
  • Avoidance of multiple hearings and use of special children’s hearing rooms
  • Ensuring safe accommodation and appropriate care for children
  • Handing out available age-specific information material
  • Notification of the youth welfare office, examination of taking into care and substitute guardianship if necessary
  • Detailed documentation of the children’s whereabouts at the time of the offence, their (emotional) state, what they witnessed and what dangers they are/were exposed to
  • No use of direct coercion against children (e.g., when taking them into care)

Regardless of whether children only witness violence or are themselves victims of violence, children who are present must always be regarded as victims. They must be given the necessary attention.

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If people with a migration background are victims of domestic violence, there is a tension with regard to police measures. The sense of honour and religious views can differ considerably from each other and, above all, from Western European values. Due to gender-related role perceptions in particular, women with a migrant background are increasingly reluctant to accuse the perpetrator and accept their situation. Above all, the fear of being excluded from the family or the threat of having their children taken away can lead to victims tolerating the violence. Unclear legal perceptions, language barriers, concerns about their right of residence and their economic situation make it difficult for the victims to find a way out of the violence. Special support is needed here. The use of violence in foreign families cannot be justified as culturally determined and should therefore not be tolerated under any circumstances. Due to language barriers, religious background and role perceptions, both victims and perpetrators can react in different ways. This can lead to victims rejecting the police.14

It is important to remind that not all victims of domestic violence with an immigrant background form a homogeneous group. Even within the same culture, there are variations depending on the age of the individuals, whether the family lived in the city or in the countryside, ethnic group, education, religion, etc. Therefore, each victim of violence must be approached as an individual, and their unique challenges and strengths must be considered. On the other hand, people with very different backgrounds may experience similar challenges in their new country of residence due to the language barriers and lack of support.

The following aspects are therefore particularly important15:

  • Victim-orientated measures: Where possible, victim-oriented measures for women should be carried out by a female police officer (questioning, counselling).
  • Language barriers: Consideration of language barriers and religious backgrounds when conducting interviews and interventions is important. The police must ensure that interpretation services are available.
  • Interpreter use: If a police officer does not have a device suitable for interpretation (e.g., a smartphone with an interpretation application), or if a police officer is not aware of the interpretation service in use in their own police department, the officer’s superiors must ensure that employees have sufficient training and devices. When choosing an interpreter, it must be considered that some languages or dialects are spoken by a relatively small number of people. This poses a risk of the interpreter recognising the person being interpreted. It is useful to ask the person being interpreted in which language they prefer and whether the region of origin of the interpreter matters to them. For example, many Syrian/Iraqi Kurds speak Arabic in addition to Kurdish dialects, so an interpreter who speaks Egyptian Arabic may be used. If the person belongs to a sexual or gender minority, it is good to find out if they have a specific interpreter they wish to use. Telephone interpreting can be a good practice to avoid personal data being disclosed and reduce the risk of recognition. While interpreters are bound by confidentiality, minimising risks can help the victim feel more secure. Find more information about communication and the use of interpreters in cases of domestic violence in Module 3.
  • No relatives as interpreters: Do not use children and relatives as interpreters to overcome language barriers.
  • Separate interviews: Always interview the victim separately from the family to ensure their statements are uninfluenced by family presence.
  • Behaviour analysis: Analyse the victim’s behaviour and statement with regard to possible influencing factors (fear of reprisals, family, exclusion).
  • Support acceptance: Support from the police may not be accepted due to the victim’s understanding of their role. In such cases, refer the victim to other institutions, such as counselling centres.
  • Risk of exclusion: Consider the risk of the victim being excluded from the family and social environment as a result of the accusation. Pay particular attention to the importance of family/honour in relation to reporting and accusations by the victim.
  • Trusted person involvement: Involvement of a trusted person of the victim can provide additional support and reassurance.

Women and girls with a migration background can also be victims of very specific forms of domestic violence. These include forced marriage or female genital mutilation. Find out more about specific forms of violence in Module 1.

In certain cases, foreign nationals are only granted residence in order to maintain the marital partnership with their resident spouse. If the marital partnership breaks down, this can lead to the loss of the residence permit. This may vary from one European country to another.

For example, in Germany, an independent right of residence, independent of the existence of the marital cohabitation, only comes into effect if the marital partnership has existed in the federal territory for at least three years. In the event of separation prior to the expiry of this period, continued residence in Germany is granted “insofar as this is necessary to avoid particular hardship”. This particular hardship is determined by case law on a case-by-case basis. Particular hardship is deemed to be, among other things, if it is unreasonable to expect the spouse to continue living in a marital partnership due to violence. Separation from the violent spouse, combined with protection orders, admission to a women’s shelter or expulsion from the home do not automatically lead to the loss of the right of residence.

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Due to their limitations, people with disabilities are often dependent on the help of their environment and their carers. In most cases, the perpetrator is someone familiar or close to the disabled person (e.g., close relative, carer, assistant of the disabled person). Sometimes this dependency is abused by partners or trusted persons. As the victims are usually dependent on their partners to cope with their everyday lives, they endure the violent situation and take it for granted. If they show resistance to the violence, they must expect negative consequences in their daily care and a loss of care. Special care and consideration must therefore be taken when dealing with disabled people as victims of domestic violence.

Many disabled persons do not want or do not know how to talk about domestic violence. Some may not realise that they have been a victim of domestic violence. They may feel guilty and ashamed of what happened, be worried about the possible consequences for the perpetrator, or fear the perpetrator’s threats and rejection. External signs of domestic violence can include repeated bruises, injuries, or contusions that do not match the story of the disabled person or their loved ones. They may also be malnourished and either taking too much medication or neglecting to take it. The behaviour of the affected person can also change. Domestic violence can cause fearfulness, depression, suicidal thoughts, emotional dependency, and aggression.

Women with disabilities and impairments are exposed to all forms of violence much more frequently in the course of their lives.16 A disability or illness is an aspect that must be taken into account when providing help. This is a very important aspect, as the resulting circumstances and needs must be taken into account when providing assistance. Among other things, the lack of (barrier-free) infrastructure to support victims with disabilities after experiencing violence must be considered. Often, only a few shelters and counselling centres are barrier-free.

The following main points must be taken into account17:

  • Respectful treatment of the victim
  • Do not speak to a disabled person in the presence of a potential perpetrator
  • Consider the type of disability and adaptation of behaviour and measures
  • Ensure communication (deaf, speech impaired) by using special aids or third parties (trusted person, sign language interpreter)
  • Check the need for assistance in particular
  • Check that assistive devices are suitable for the disabled
  • Support in taking personal belongings
  • Ensure safe accommodation for victims
  • Recognise the caregiver’s exhaustion and direct the caregiver to help if necessary
  • Document the interview when you suspect that the person being interviewed is, for example, a person with a developmental disability

Domestic violence against elderly is a largely taboo subject. However, domestic violence can also be experienced in old age. The issue becomes more difficult when looking at older people who are in need of care and therefore dependent on help. A large dark field can be assumed here, as surveys can only be conducted with people who are physically and intellectually able to do so. In addition, older people are often underrepresented in studies and tend to have a very low reporting ability. Many elderly people are ashamed of talking about domestic violence, or they may not even realise that they experience domestic violence. Some of them may also be dependent on the perpetrator. Out of fear of ending up in a care home, they prefer to be cared for by the perpetrator. The picture of victimisation in old age must and will therefore remain incomplete, taking into account the large number of unreported cases.18

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Family carers can also experience physical and verbal violence from those in need of care. The spectrum therefore ranges from violence by family carers who are overwhelmed by the burden of caring to targeted abuse or neglect. It also includes the mistreatment of relatives by those in need of care themselves. This problem area includes particular obstacles and difficulties in accessing help on the part of those affected, as well as an infrastructure that has so far primarily focussed on victims in younger and middle age.19

The following priorities should be taken into account to improve handling20:

  • Recognising the existence of the problem
  • Dealing sensitively with those affected
  • Improving awareness and knowledge of the problem
  • Development of intervention skills
  • Offering help
  • Recognising the caregiver’s exhaustion and directing the caregiver to help if necessary
  • Cooperation with care facilities for short-term accommodation
  • Involvement of the social psychiatric service

Stalking often occurs in connection with cases of domestic violence, especially after separations. Stalking refers to the intentional and repeated following and harassment of a person in such a way that their safety is threatened and their way of life is significantly impaired.

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There is no such thing as typical stalking behaviour. There can be a variety of stalking behaviours, which often affect the victim at the same time. Classic behaviours of stalkers are:

  • Persistent phone calls, text messages,
    letters, emails, messages on social networks
  • Repeated presence in the proximity of the victim
  • Constantly following the victim
  • Verbal abuse
  • Coercion
  • Threats
  • Ordering goods
  • Damage to property
  • Spying on data
  • Constant gifts as “proof of love”
  • Disseminating images or files of the victim in public
  • Physically assaulting the victim

Persistent stalking can lead to ongoing severe physical and psychological symptoms in the victim.

The legal approach to stalking can differ from country to country in Europe.

Dealing with the victim

The following recommendations and tips should be given to the victim when dealing with the perpetrator and the stalking:

  • Consistent avoidance of contact between the victim and the perpetrator
  • Avoidance of encounters with the perpetrator
  • Extensive protection and documentation of the perpetrator’s contact with the victim
  • Publicising the stalking in the victim’s personal environment
  • Contacting the police immediately in the event of an acute threat/persecution
  • Careful handling of personal data and documents (address, film recordings, photos)
  • Use of technical protection options (secret telephone number, second line, interception)
  • Adequately securing the home and property (e.g., car)
  • Information on support services (counselling centres and shelters)
  • Information on medical and psychotherapeutic support services as well as documentation that can be used in court
  • Advice on the possibilities of protection orders

Dealing with the perpetrator

  • Carrying out interrogations and risk assessment
  • Intensive dialogue to gain insights and a possible de-escalation of the situation
  • Clarification of the injustice of the offence
  • Keeping the perpetrator in the focus of the police
  • Introducing perpetrator counselling and arranging it if necessary

Find more resources on stalking for law enforcement here.

Police intervention in cases of domestic violence is geared towards both averting danger and prosecution. In some European countries, once the police intervene, the case must proceed through the judicial process. In cases of domestic violence addressing the perpetrator, an expulsion order, the eviction from the home, a residence ban, the prohibition of contact, or detention can be considered. Of particular importance is the ban on returning to the home, which can be issued by the police if this is necessary to avert a current danger posed by a person living in the same home.

Pre-trial process

Criminal, civil, family, and administrative pre-trial/hearing processes that are non-biased and sensitive to the specific needs of victims of domestic violence are essential to guaranteeing their right to justice. Essential pre-trial criminal justice services reflect the international obligation of the state and its justice service providers in exercising primary responsibility for investigation and initiating prosecution while balancing the importance of empowering victims to make informed decisions regarding their interactions with the criminal justice system.

Pre-trial/hearing processes in criminal justice matters include bail hearings, committal hearings, selection of charges, decision to prosecute and preparation for criminal trial. In civil and family matters they include interim child custody/support orders, discovery procedures in civil cases, and preparation for trial or hearing. In administrative law matters, such as criminal injuries compensation schemes, it is recognised that this can be pursued in the absence of or in addition to criminal and/or civil cases and include providing supporting documentation for applications.

Although the pre-trial process is only a small part of a police officer’s job description, the following most important aspects should be kept in mind to know what happens after your job is done.

  • The primary responsibility for initiating prosecution should rest with the justice service provider and not with the victim.
  • The victim has to be informed about any decisions concerning prosecution, unless they indicate that they do not want this information.
  • Any decision not to proceed should not be based solely on the fact that there is no medico-legal report or that the report is inconclusive.
  • All relevant information has to be gathered. This could also include the psycho-social context of the violence, medical, forensic, and other relevant reports, and information.
Trial process

Victims of domestic violence who are involved in criminal and civil justice processes at the trial stages can feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by the justice system or be re-victimised through the treatment of justice service providers. International victim’s directive and standards call for measures to prevent further hardship and trauma that may result from attending the trial itself. They should also ensure that trial processes maximise the survivor’s cooperation, promote their capacity to exert agency during the trial stage while ensuring that, in criminal matters, the burden of seeking justice is on the state. The justice services are considered essential during the trial processes and reflect internationally agreed-upon model strategies, including friendly and enabling court environments for victims to feel safe and comfortable while recounting what they have experienced, procedures to minimise re-victimisation, and the application of evidentiary rules in a non-discriminatory manner.

If possible, a social worker can accompany the victim through the several stages of the legal processes. In some European countries this service is available on request.

The role of NGOs is essential to support the victims in this phase of the trial. Alongside the work of a lawyer, they have the skills to facilitate this period of stress and uncertainty, regarding housing, shelters, financial aid, and children by providing psychological support for victims.

Post-trial process

The justice system can play an important role in preventing future violence, both by sending a strong message to the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated but also in its role in ensuring the accountability and rehabilitation of perpetrators and by reducing relapse rates. The international norms and standards urge states to develop and evaluate treatment and reintegration/rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators that prioritise the victims’ safety as well as to ensure that compliance is monitored. These standards also urge states to ensure that there are appropriate measures in place to eliminate domestic violence.

Post-trial processes include corrections as it relates to protection of the victim, minimising the risk of re-offending by the offender, and the offender’s rehabilitation. It also covers prevention and response services for victims who are detained in correctional facilities, and for victims in detention who have suffered domestic violence.

A large number of possible offences come into consideration when investigating cases of domestic violence. The criminal procedures in cases of domestic violence differ in the individual European countries. You can find an overview of the criminal procedures in the IMPROVE and VIPROM partner countries in Module 7.

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