This module gives an overview of international standards and legal frameworks in Europe. The learning materials are not tailored to the needs of every country; they include generic cases that need local adaptation.
International organisations have defined a set of minimum standards which governments and service providers should achieve and implement in order to meet their international obligation to investigate and punish acts of violence, provide protection to victims and prevent domestic violence.
This section lists human rights conventions and declarations that obligate countries that have ratified these conventions to treat violence against women as a human rights violation and to incorporate international standards into their domestic legislations. Also included in this section are strategy frameworks and policy documents that address domestic violence.
- The foundations for the basic standards encompass confidentiality, safety, security and respect for service users, accessibility, and availability.
- Support should be available free of charge and interventions should employ the principles of empowerment and self-determination.
- Service providers should be skilled, gender-sensitive, have ongoing training and conduct their work in accordance with clear guidelines, protocols, and ethic codes and, where possible, provide female staff.
- Each service provider should maintain the confidentiality and privacy of the victim and should co-operate and co-ordinate with all other relevant services. It should monitor and evaluate service provision, seeking participation of service users.
- The expertise of the specialised NGOs should be recognised.
- Standards also stress the importance of integration in approaches to domestic violence. They emphasise inter-agency co-ordination and the establishment of intervention chains, referral processes, and protocols.
- The best way to deliver services is through ‘one-stop shop’ or multidisciplinary teams, as well as ‘one-stop person’ approaches.
- Where appropriate, a range of protection and support services should be located on the same premises.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
Adopted in 1948 by 58 member states of the United Nations, UDHR defines human rights as fundamental to all human beings and requires governments to take actions to protect human rights of all beings.
Council of Europe
Opened for signature in May 2011, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle these serious violations of human rights.
Preventing violence, protecting victims, and prosecuting the perpetrators are the cornerstones of the convention. It also seeks to change the hearts and minds of individuals by calling on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to change their attitudes. In essence, it is a renewed call for greater equality between women and men, because violence against women is deeply rooted in the inequality between women and men in society and is perpetuated by a culture of intolerance and denial.
More information about the convention:
What does the convention require states to do?
- Change attitudes, gender roles and stereotypes that make violence against women acceptable; train professionals working with victims
- Raise awareness of the different forms of violence and their traumatising nature
- Include teaching material on equality issues in the curricula at all levels of education
- Co-operate with NGOs, the media, and the private sector to reach out to the public
- Ensure that violence against women is criminalised and appropriately punished
- Ensure that excuses on the grounds of culture, custom, religion, or so-called “honour” are unacceptable for any act of violence
- Ensure that victims have access to special protection measures during investigation and judicial proceedings
- Ensure that law enforcement agencies respond to calls for assistance immediately and manage dangerous situations adequately
- Ensure that all of the above measures form part of a comprehensive and co-ordinated set of policies and offer a holistic response to violence against women and domestic violence
Who is covered by the convention?
The convention covers all women and girls from any background, regardless of their age, race, religion, social origin, migrant status, or sexual orientation. The convention recognises that there are groups of women and girls that are often at greater risk of experiencing violence, and states need to ensure that their specific needs are considered. States are also encouraged to apply the convention to other victims of domestic violence, such as men, children, and the elderly.
What does the convention criminalise?
The convention requires states parties to criminalise or otherwise sanction the following behaviours:
- domestic violence (physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence),
- sexual violence, including rape,
- sexual harassment,
- forced marriage,
- female genital mutilation,
- forced abortion and forced sterilisation.
To emphasise the particularly traumatising effect of crimes within the family, a heavier sentence can be imposed on the perpetrator when the victim is a spouse, partner, or a member of the family.
How is the implementation of the convention monitored?
The convention sets up a monitoring mechanism to assess how well its provisions are put into practice. This monitoring mechanism consists of two pillars: the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), an independent expert body, and the Committee of the Parties, a political body composed of official representatives of the States Parties to the Convention. Their findings and recommendations will help to ensure states’ compliance with the convention and guarantee its long-term effectiveness.
Reservations and withdrawals
Croatia made a reservation in its declaration deposited on 12 June 2018, stating that it did not consider itself bound by the Convention “to introduce gender ideology into the Croatian legal and educational system or to modify the constitutional definition of marriage”.
In its declaration deposited on 27 April 2015, Poland entered reservations to Article 18(5) of the Convention, stating that it wished to offer consular protection under the Convention to Polish nationals only. Six other signatory countries have objected to Poland’s declaration because they consider it incompatible with Article 78 (“reservations”) of the Convention. Both, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and Social Affairs Minister Marlena Maląg, announced that Poland would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in July 2020. To date (April 2021), however, this announcement has not been followed by a withdrawal.
On 19 March 2021, Turkey became the first and so far (as of April 2021), only country to withdraw from the Convention, which aims to prevent and combat violence against women. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed the decree; no reason was given for the withdrawal.
The Istanbul Convention has demonstrated its positive impact towards setting up mechanisms to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. To date, several countries have initiated reforms and adopted new legislative and policy pieces moving towards ratification.
One of the most relevant outcomes of the Istanbul Convention is how effective it is in instigating change and progress in countries where it is ratified, often in the span of just a few years. The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Observatory has assessed the level of ratification in 23 European countries that have ratified the Istanbul Convention. In its analysis, the EWL Observatory concludes that in the 23 countries examined, including 19 EU Member States and 4 non-EU Member States, the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention has introduced positive measures across the four pillars listed below in all countries.
- Policies: A strong majority of countries analysed (96 %) have made substantive improvements to their policies and legislation related to combating violence against women and girls, and domestic violence. This includes adopting special laws, developing national action plans and strategies to cover different forms of violence, improving data collection mechanisms, and introducing amendments to criminal legislation.
- Protection: 19 out of 23 countries examined (83 %) have improved protection services for women victims of violence and victims of domestic violence. Several countries have significantly increased their financial allocations and resources for shelters and other support services. In other countries, specialised services for survivors of sexual violence have notably been set up, while helplines, shelters and women’s centres have also been strengthened or newly established.
- Prosecution: Improvements in investigations and prosecution are already visible in 15 out of 23 countries analysed (65 %), which is more than half of the countries that have ratified the Convention. This includes improvements in developing more adequate systems for risk assessment and early identification of victims, such as setting up specialised courts. New legislation on protection and emergency orders have also been introduced and used increasingly.
- Prevention: In 14 out of the 23 countries analysed (61 %) efforts to prevent violence against women and girls and domestic violence have intensified. Several state parties have increased their involvement in awareness raising campaigns; made progress towards developing school programmes that address equality between women and men and violence against women and/or domestic violence; improved training of professionals and developed handbooks in their effort to prevent male violence against women, its specific forms (such as intimate partner violence, FGM and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence) and domestic violence; and developed materials and training to conduct risk assessments and ensure the early detection of victims.
Istanbul Convention as a driving force for change
The ratification of the Istanbul Convention has been a driving force for the development of policy and legislation expanding beyond the scope of domestic violence to address the various forms of violence covered by the convention. Spain, for example, has recognised the need to broaden its policy approach and has taken measures to increase responses to forms of violence against women beyond domestic violence. Moreover, further to the ratification of the convention, higher legislative and policy standards have been introduced at the national level in a number of countries, including in Andorra, Austria, Malta, Monaco, and Portugal. This demonstrates the transformative momentum created by the Istanbul Convention as much as the high degree of engagement among parties.
Gendered approach to violence against women
A distinctly gendered approach to implementing the provisions of the Istanbul Convention was observed in Andorra, Spain, and Sweden. The Spanish authorities had a pioneering role in developing a strong legal framework in relation to intimate partner violence that has served as an inspiration for other European countries. Organic Law 1/2004 on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence fully recognises the gendered nature of intimate partner violence and strongly emphasises the need to empower women in terms of both, preventing and breaking free from such violence, to empower women economically including by developing measures and helping them to start independent lives. Organic Law 1/2004 is also an example of legal innovation because it introduces, for the first time, specialist violence against women courts with joint jurisdiction over all civil and criminal law matters related to intimate partner violence and related family law issues so that all related legal issues can be settled in one court in order to reduce the level of secondary victimisation and trauma for victims.
An example of a promising practice is the adoption of the Law of 12 January 2007 in Belgium. It is known as the Gender Mainstreaming Law and provides for the integration of the fundamental principles of gender equality and non-discrimination into public policies – from the point at which they are devised to the point at which they are assessed and, in particular, when they are implemented by the authorities and their staff. A similar approach has been adopted in Sweden where all areas of policy-making and governance are anchored in gender equality principles, with gender impact assessments and gender quality analyses routinely carried out by trained civil servants. Andorra and France have also made significant efforts to ensure a gender perspective in the wording of all laws and policies. Andorra has instituted measures ensuring that a gender perspective is incorporated in all policies combatting violence against women; all policies and programmes of the social and health services; and all proposed legislation. In France, each government ministry has a designated official responsible for equal rights, and there are ongoing efforts to mainstream gender budgeting in order to address gender inequalities in the allocation of public funds. The Netherlands have also taken steps toward gender mainstreaming by including gender equality in its Integrated Assessment Framework, which evaluates all new policy and legislative proposals in terms of their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 on Gender Equality. In Monaco, there have been recent proposals to set up an inter-ministerial body responsible for issues relating to women’s rights.
Monaco and Sweden decided to bolster multi-agency co-operation through: (i) the institutionalisation of a network of trained officers within each of the services involved in implementing policy on violence against women in Monaco; and (ii) the establishment of the Gender Equality Agency in Sweden, a state body responsible for co-ordinating policy implementations across all relevant actors, which is actively promoting the Istanbul Convention as well as the implementation of GREVIO’s findings.
Austria has a long-established history of inter-institutional co-operation, including between the state and feminist groups providing victim support services, which has led to pioneering legislation on domestic violence that still constitutes the benchmark for law- and policy-making in this area. One notable example is that based on the Security Police Act, where law enforcement agencies inform the relevant support service (the Violence Protection Centre) each time an emergency barring order is issued, and the centres may reach out to the women and children concerned. Moreover, government co-operation with NGOs also extends to policy-making, with civil society representatives forming part of inter-ministerial working groups that address and improve Austria’s response to violence against women.
A promising practice in Denmark is the approach of their campaigns on stalking and rape, which included components that specifically targeted professionals such as law enforcement agents and social workers. This approach has led to improvements in the professionals’ response to such violence and demonstrates the importance of such measures, where their initial training does not yet include information on these forms of violence against women. In Sweden, the “Come to us” campaign was launched by the Swedish police. This initiative delivered online information in 18 different languages: on the importance of reporting crimes such as domestic violence, forced marriage and “honour-related violence”, how to report such crimes, how a criminal investigation is conducted, and on the help that is available to victims. It reached out to the general public and victims and had the potential for increasing the number of reported cases. At the same time, it stressed the need to ensure adequate responses on the part of law enforcement following these awareness-raising endeavours.
Another promising practice was Portugal’s approach to awareness-raising on the harmful practice of FGM, which involved, during the school holidays, the distribution of leaflets and posters warning about the harmful effects of FGM at airports, in the departure areas for flights bound for several countries in Africa where FGM continues to be practised. Concurrent preventive measures were also taken in the airports of Guinea-Bissau, in light of the fact that the majority of victims in Portugal belongs to the migrant community originating from this country. This is based on the knowledge that most girls and women in Portugal who have been victims of FGM have undergone mutilation while on holidays in their country of origin.
In France, awareness-raising activities have become more systematic in the last two decades. They are part of the ongoing measures implemented by the various inter-ministerial plans. Some have addressed gender-based harassment and sexual violence in public transport, including unacceptable behaviour, giving key advice on how to behave and how to react in these situations. Others have focused on sexual violence, or, for example, on witnessing domestic violence.
In Belgium, the awareness-raising campaigns focused on diverse forms of violence, notably sexual harassment and gender-based acts, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, “honour-related violence”, forced marriage and FGM, as well as on diverse target groups, using various communication media. The campaign on psychological intimate partner violence, “Fred et Marie/Marie et Fred”, used a series of short films that portray, in a non-sensationalist way, psychologically violent behaviour in a relationship and the responses of the victim and bystanders.
Training of professionals
In Austria, domestic violence, including its gender-based dimension, is encompassed in the two-year basic initial training of law-enforcement officers. As domestic violence cases and emergency barring orders account for a large part of the work of law enforcement agencies, the specific nature of this type of violence and the relevant police measures are an important element of the basic training. Depending on grade and job profile, some law enforcement officers receive more extensive training. For example, prevention officers receive training on forced marriage and FGM in a small training module, and domestic violence prevention officers are trained extensively on how to address warnings to perpetrators who have been barred from their home. Much is done, however, also at the level of in-service training, which is mandatory and organised every three months on various subjects. Domestic violence is covered once or twice a year, and seminars are usually conducted by representatives from the specialist support services.
To guarantee continuous training for professionals, various parties have passed laws introducing mandatory training. In Monaco, a legal provision (Law No. 382) stipulates that regular training for professionals who deal with victims of violence shall be put in place in order to help them deal with the victims’ problems in the best possible way in their respective spheres of competence. To implement this provision, a consultation was held between representatives of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Police Department, the Department of Justice, the fire brigade, and the sole public hospital, which resulted in the creation of new teaching modules on victim support, demonstrating a multi-agency approach. In Andorra, following ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and since the entry into force of Law No. 1/2015, in-service training on gender-based violence and domestic violence has become compulsory for all professionals who are directly or indirectly involved in detecting and preventing gender-based violence and/or protecting and assisting victims concerned. Whilst the country only has a limited number of university courses and higher education or vocational training programmes, under Article 6, paragraph 8 of Law No. 1/2015, universities in Andorra must promote training, education, and research on violence against women on a cross-cutting basis and ensure gender mainstreaming, in particular in education, for professionals and healthcare professionals.
The Netherlands have undertaken efforts in the field of prevention of FGM, including the compulsory training module for midwives, the training of youth health care professionals on FGM risk assessments and on working with parents. Also, the national knowledge centre for FGM has trained 110 key persons working on FGM in practicing communities.
In Denmark, professionals working in specialist support services such as shelters, perpetrator programmes and support services for victims of sexual violence were particularly well-trained and had reached a high level of expertise that ensures the respect of victims’ and perpetrators’ rights and needs. These specialised professionals often provided training for other entities such as law enforcement agencies, the state administration, and the municipality-run Social Services.
In Spain, in a move to ensure higher levels of tertiary education on violence against women, many universities across Spain have introduced graduate programmes specifically dedicated to the study of violence against women. Moreover, in Sweden, following the ratification of the convention and further to the amendment of the Higher Education Ordinance, men’s violence against women has become a compulsory subject for university students within various fields of study.
Preventive intervention and treatment programmes
In Italy, Relive, a national network that implements perpetrator programmes, has developed consolidated guidelines for perpetrator programmes and supports newly established programmes to reach baseline standards through practice exchange and training. An accreditation process ensures quality standards. Following ratification of the Istanbul Convention, Andorra introduced a programme to promote non-violent relationships as an essential aspect of an integrated response to violence against women that takes the relationship between victims, perpetrators, children, and their wider social environment into account.
Combating violence against women in the media
In Portugal, the authorities have taken a number of measures to encourage the media to combat stereotypes and promote gender equality. Following the ratification of the convention, ensuring equal visibility, responsibility and participation of women and men in the media has been included as one of the strategic goals of the 2014-2017 National Action Plan for Gender Equality, Citizenship and Non-discrimination. Moreover, Portugal’s new Action Plan for Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2018-21) includes the specific objective of ensuring communication free of sexist stereotypes, namely by establishing mechanisms to report sexist content in the media. Several initiatives by the co-ordinating body in this area are recognised as examples of good practices among Council of Europe member states.
Spain introduced a wide array of legislative measures and institutions that promote balanced and non-stereotypical images of women. Several laws set out specific rules for media coverage of women and reporting on gender-based violence. These include Organic Law 1/2004 on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender-based Violence, Law 3/2007 on Effective Equality for Women and Men and the General Audio-visual Law (Law 7/2010). Law 1/2004 and Law 3/2007 prohibit advertising material that use the image of women in a degrading or discriminatory manner and seek to reinforce an image of women that respects their dignity and equality (Articles 10 and 41 respectively). Article 12 of Law 1/2004 provides for a complaint mechanism to ensure the withdrawal or rectification of sexist and harmful content in the media. Institutions and associations working for equality between women and men, including the Government Delegation on Gender-based Violence and the Women’s Institute, may lodge legal action for the withdrawal of advertisements deemed illegal. Moreover, the Women’s Image Observatory (OIM) ensures the promotion of a balanced, non-stereotypical image of women in media and advertising. It carries out its mandate by monitoring the content of the media and advertising, identifying any sexist, stereotypical or discriminatory advertising and requesting their amendment or removal. It does this on its own initiative, as well as in reaction to complaints received from the general public. As regards publicly owned media, an Observatory on Equality in the Spanish Radio and Television Corporation was set up in 2017 to monitor the existence and application of ethical codes that promote equality and prevent violence against women in the activity of the RTVE Corporation. This Observatory ensures that the content broadcast on any of the media of the RTVE Corporation do not justify, trivialise, or incite violence against women.
Serbia’s ratification of the convention was followed by the obligation introduced by the Serbian authorities through the 2014 Law on Public Information and Media to generate public interest information through project financing. By co-funding the production of media content on violence against women, including domestic violence, the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Provincial Secretariat of Culture, Information and Public Relations with Religious Communities are actively partnering with the media in order to promote positive gender roles and non-violence.
Parties have undertaken efforts to mainstream the issue of violence against women into the help and support provided by social welfare services in a variety of ways, for example, by drawing up action protocols, tools, and guidelines for professionals or by establishing prioritised access to public housing for women victims of domestic violence.
Under Law No. 80/2014, Portugal introduced a property rental support scheme for victims of domestic violence and gave preferential access to public housing to women who live in shelters. The protocol “Municipalities in Solidarity with Domestic Violence Victims”, to which 42 % of municipalities in Portugal have adhered since its establishment in 2012, also enables the support of women leaving shelters either through priority access to social housing or other means of social support. This is a crucial step in helping women to rebuild their lives and stay safe, as too many women are forced to return to their abusive partners and spouses due to lack of financial means. Belgium and the Netherlands also prioritise victims’ access to public housing under the relevant regulations: they grant victims of intimate partner violence priority status or award priority points to victims who leave their homes due to intimate partner violence.
In Denmark, guidelines for social workers at the municipalities level provide guidance on how to assist victims of domestic violence who may turn to them. The aim is to ensure that women can build a life without violence, either through the general assistance provided by the municipality or through referrals to specialist services such as shelters. For a woman seeking refuge at a shelter, the municipality is obliged to provide initial and coordinated counselling to identify their needs and offer solutions.
In Serbia, the use of health mediators has helped to overcome the low confidence of Roma women in the health-care sector. This is leading to higher levels of reproductive health and the prevention of early marriage. Such distrust comes, inter alia, from the extensive reporting obligations imposed on the medical sector. In Denmark, in recent years, training initiatives have rendered many medical professionals competent in identifying victims of domestic violence and, as a result, the health sector, including general practitioners in private practices, serves as a knowledgeable first point of contact for victims.
French authorities have adopted some good practices in relation to FGM. These include the promotion of research and prevention – supported by specialist organisations such as the Group for the Abolition of FGM, Forced Marriage and Other Harmful Traditional Practices (GAMS) – and the monitoring of children at risk by Maternal and Child Protection Centres (PMI). They also support restorative surgery. Specialised care units are dedicated to the care of victims through multi-disciplinary teams of sexologists, gynaecologists, psychologists, and ethnologists. The Netherlands have set up “Consultation hours on FGM” in 11 locations throughout the Netherlands. Moreover, medical treatment limiting functional impairments caused by FGM (such as in relation to the urinary tract or efflux of menstrual blood) are covered by the Healthcare Insurance Act.
Support structures for victims of violence against women and domestic violence, or the improvement of existing ones, increased. By way of example, Portugal has focused on providing extra support to specific groups of women, by opening a new shelter for women victims of domestic violence that belong to the LBTI community. Montenegro has addressed the existing shortage of shelters in the northern part of the country by funding an NGO-run and licensed domestic violence shelter in that area.
Several countries such as Albania, Finland, Monaco, Montenegro, and Serbia have set up national helplines in recent years – in response to the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention. Montenegro has introduced a single national helpline for women and children victims of domestic violence that is free of charge and available round the clock, albeit not addressed to all victims of violence against women. Albania, through an agreement between the government and a feminist NGO, also set up a women’s helpline in 2016 devoted to violence against women, covering the entire territory and operating free of charge and 24/7. Finland introduced its Nollalinja helpline in 2016 in response to the entry into force of the convention, and Monaco has launched its anonymous, free-of-charge helpline for victims of domestic violence.
The Swedish national telephone helpline on violence against women (Kvinnofridslinjen) stands out for addressing all forms of violence against women, with well-trained and experienced social workers and nurses who refer callers to locally available specialist support services and where more than 50 % of women in Sweden know of the existence of this helpline. In terms of accessibility, the Spanish national helpline on intimate partner violence is worth mentioning: it is available in 52 languages and is accessible for callers with disabilities through visual interpretation services, textphone and an online chat forum.
Support for victims of sexual violence
Before the the Istanbul Convention’s entry into force, a range of Council of Europe member states did not have specialist support services for women victims of sexual violence which would offer medical support, forensic examinations, the storage of DNA and counselling as required by Article 25 of the Istanbul Convention. In Belgium, there have been three support centres for victims of sexual violence (CPVSs), and there are plans to roll out CPVSs nationwide. They are based on a multi-disciplinary collaborative model and holistic approach that offers immediate medical care, psychological support related to trauma they have suffered, and a forensic examination to gather evidence for prosecution. After they received care, victims can, if they wish, file a complaint, and be interviewed by a police officer on site. This represents an example of a one-stop-shop approach which can significantly reduce secondary victimisation. Moreover, Finland, has set up a sexual violence referral centre in its capital and is launching a rollout of such centres, accompanied by satellite support centres in each province to fill the existing gap in service provision for victims of rape and sexual violence. The need for high-quality sexual violence referral centres has increasingly gained recognition in a number of countries, including Austria and Portugal; as a result, support services have been established or increased these countries.
In Denmark, a highly specialised network of 10 centres for victims of rape and sexual violence has been developed. These centres provide assistance to women and girls over 15 years of age who have been victims of sexual violence in the form of medical care and trauma support combined with forensic examinations. Victims can seek these services any time after the assault, including several years later. The standard procedure for medical and forensic examination is carried out irrespectively of whether the victim wants to report. Evidence is collected and stored up to 3 months or longer if the victim requests it, so that it can be used for future judicial proceedings, in compliance with the standards set by Article 25.
Protection and support for child witnesses
Many parties directly or indirectly recognise the harmful effects that witnessing domestic violence has on children and provide for the obligation to inform the relevant authority, be it the municipality, child protection or child welfare services, of any suspicion or confirmed incident whereby a child has witnessed or has been a direct victim of violence. In some countries such as Montenegro and Italy, the commission of domestic violence in the presence of children entails aggravated sentences. Moreover, once again in Italy, as well as in the Netherlands, committing violence against women in the presence of a child is equated to a form of child abuse. In Andorra, Montenegro, and Turkey, witnessing such violence is considered tantamount to experiencing it directly as legislation calls for the same level of protection and support by statutory agencies. By way of example, Andorran legislation defines all women who have been the object of gender-based violence as well as their minor children as “victims” so that they can be granted the right to social, psychological, and medical support. Spain officially recognised witnessing intimate partner violence as children’s victimisation. The legislation includes children who are underage or under the guardianship or custody of women who are victims of intimate partner violence in the scope of the holistic support and protection offered by this law. Worth of notice is also the Danish Stalking Centre, which offers psychological support to children who have witnessed the effects of the stalking on their parent(s).
European Women’s Lobby (EWL) (2021). Towards a Europe Free from Male Violence Against Women and Girls. Recommendations from the European Women’s Lobby to end violence against women and girls in Europe once and for all.
WHO Clinical and Policy Guidelines
Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women
A health care provider is likely to be the first professional contact for survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault. Evidence suggests that women who have been subjected to violence seek health care more often than non-abused women, even if they do not disclose the associated violence. They also identify health care providers as the professionals they would trust most with disclosure of abuse.
They also provide advice for policy makers, encouraging better coordination and funding of services, and greater attention to responding to sexual violence and partner violence within training programmes for health care providers.
The guidelines are based on systematic reviews of the evidence, and cover:
- identification and clinical care for intimate partner violence,
- clinical care for sexual assault,
- training relating to intimate partner violence and sexual assault against women,
- policy and programmatic approaches to delivering services,
- mandatory reporting of intimate partner violence.
The guidelines aim to raise awareness of violence against women among health-care providers and policymakers, so that they better understand the need for an appropriate health sector response. They provide standards that can form the foundation for national guidelines, and for integrating these issues into health care provider education.
UN-Resolution: Violence against Women
Violence against women has been addressed in numerous resolutions by both, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Although such resolutions do not have binding legal authority, they do set forth international standards and best practices.
IMPRODOVA: The UN and its role in combating violence against women
The video explains the role of the UN in fighting violence against women.
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, CEDAW has been ratified by 187 countries. CEDAW does not explicitly mention violence against women, but it defines what constitutes discrimination against women, establishes norms and standards, and obligates states that have ratified the convention to end discrimination against women and girls.
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Adopted in 1993 by the UN General Assembly, this declaration defines violence against women. As a consequence of the declaration, the Commission on Human Rights adopted Resolution 1994/45 which appointed a Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
One of the most important resolutions on violence against women is the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, DEVAW establishes the most comprehensive set of standards in international law for the protection of women against sexual and gender-based violence. DEVAW recognises violence against women as “an obstacle to the achievement of equality” and a “manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women,” as well as a violation of fundamental freedoms including the prohibition against torture. The Declaration defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life” (Art. 1). This includes, but is not limited to, “[p]hysical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family” (Art. 2). The Declaration not only declares that state actors should refrain from engaging in violence against women, but also asserts that states should take affirmative measures to prevent and punish violence committed by public and private actors alike and establish support networks to care for victims of gender-based violence (Art. 4).
The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“The Lanzarote Convention”)
The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, “The Lanzarote Convention”, requires criminalisation of all kinds of sexual offences against children. Its objectives are more effective prevention of sexual offences against children, prosecution of perpetrators and protection of child victims.
The convention requires states to:
- prevent and combat sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children;
- protect the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,
- ensure that children are made aware of the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and of how to protect themselves,
- promote national and international co-operation against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children by implementing legislative measures to protect the rights of children,
- screen, recruit, and train persons working in contact with children,
- ensure regularly monitored intervention measures for offenders and potential offenders.
Source: The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (CETS no. 201, Lanzarote, 25.10.2007)
Victim’s Rights Directive
- Establishes minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime
- Ensures that victims of crime are recognised and treated with respect and receive proper protection, support, and access to justice.
- strengthens the rights of victims and their family members to information, support and protection,
- strengthens the victims’ procedural rights in criminal proceedings,
- requires that EU countries ensure appropriate training on victims’ needs for those officials who are likely to come into contact with victims.
Source: Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA
Convention on the Rights of the Child (OHCR)
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:
- The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
- The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
- The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.”
In 2004, the UN General Assembly also specifically addressed domestic violence in Resolution 58/147, “Elimination of domestic violence against women”. In this important resolution, the General Assembly, recognizing that domestic violence is a human rights issue with serious immediate and long-term implications, strongly condemned all forms of domestic violence against women and girls and called for an elimination of violence in the family. The resolution also recognised the following.
(a) That domestic violence is violence that occurs within the private sphere, generally between individuals who are related through blood or intimacy;
(b) That domestic violence is one of the most common and least visible forms of violence against women and that its consequences affect many areas of the lives of victims;
(c) That domestic violence can take many different forms, including physical, psychological and sexual violence;
(d) That domestic violence is of public concern and requires States to take serious action to protect victims and prevent domestic violence; [and]
(e) That domestic violence can include economic deprivation and isolation and that such conduct may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or well-being of women.
The General Assembly also included dozens of specific actions, that States should take to eliminate domestic violence, in the resolution, including strengthening legislation, providing training to public officers, improving police response, and creating educational campaigns.
In addition to these major resolutions, the subject of violence against women has also been addressed in several other resolutions, including
- a series of resolutions on the “Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women” (see Resolutions 64/137 (2009), 63/155 (2008), 62/133 (2007) and 61/143 (2006)),
- a series of resolutions on “Elimination of all forms of violence, including crimes against women” (see Resolutions 59/167 (2004), 57/181 (2002), and 55/68 (2000)), and
- a series on “In-depth study of all forms of violence against women (see Resolutions 60/136 (2005) and 58/185 (2003)).
Many of these resolutions resulted in in-depth reports to the Secretary-General. A complete list of General Assembly resolutions and accompanying reports on violence against women can be found on the UN Women website. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has also passed several resolutions on eliminating discrimination and violence against women, including Resolutions 14/12 (2010), 15/23 (2010), 12/17 (2009), 11/2 (2009), 7/24 (2008), and many others. A complete list of HRC resolutions and accompanying reports can be found on the UN Women website.
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
The Special Rapporteur has four mandates, which include seeking information on violence against women, and recommending measures, ways, and means to eliminate VAW.
International framework for action to prevent trafficking in persons protocol
This framework is a technical assistant tool designed to support UN member states to effectively implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which is a protocol that obligates its ratifying states to prevent and combat trafficking in persons.
Explanatory report to the council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings
This Council of the European Convention provides definitions and information about prevention and protection measures, victim’s rights, investigation and prosecution, and other international instruments.
Further information on international frameworks: