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Regional seminar “Protection and specialised support by the police, health care professionals and social workers for victims of domestic violence”
Skopje, 11-12 September 2007

Speech by Jan Kleijssen
Director, Directorate General of Human Rights
Council of Europe

    Mr Chairman
    Ladies and Gentlemen

    Today is the 11 of September, or 9/11 as it has become known since the terrible events six years ago. Many of us will think back to those moments today – and so will the media. The fight against terror has rightly become a top priority for governments – and for the Council of Europe as our key aim is to protect human rights. However, another form of terror is still not receiving enough attention. It is the terror felt by the countless of women who become victims of domestic violence every day.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Violence against women, including domestic violence is one of the most serious forms of gender-based violations of human rights. It deprives women of their ability to enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms and often leaves women vulnerable to further abuse.

We cannot speak about true equality between women and men, for as long as we turn our blind eye to gender-based violence in our societies.

Let me give you some figures on the prevalence of violence: A study published by the Council of Europe suggests that across member states, one-fifth to one-quarter of all women have experienced physical violence at least once during their adult lives, and more than one-tenth have suffered sexual violence involving the use of force. Figures for all forms of violence, including stalking, are as high as 45%. More significantly, for women – unlike men, who also encounter a great deal of physical violence - the majority of such violent acts are carried out by men in their immediate social environment, most often by partners and ex-partners. 12% to 15% of all women have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 161. Many more continue to suffer physical and sexual violence from former partners even after the break-up.

This study also gives the estimated annual costs relative to the population which clarifies just how much each taxpayer contributes. The results of this study indicate that the total national cost of violence against women in Council of Europe member states in relation to the total population ranges from 9.2 Euro to 555 Euro per capita every year.

However, the lower figure is not entirely representative as it concerns only women who sought victim support services. The higher figure includes - with a view to long-term effects of violence - health costs, social services (including help and assistance to children), civil legal costs, criminal justice sector, employment, housing, human and emotional costs.

According to these studies, the estimated total annual costs of violence amount to 34 billion Euros for Council of Europe member states. With 800 million Europeans living in this area, a quick calculation shows that violence costs around 40 euros [exact figure 42,5 euros] to each European and in a country with a population of two million - such as our host country - the annual cost of violence would amount to 85 million euros annually.

As these figures suggest, it is obvious that this violence takes place all around us: among our colleagues, friends and family members in all our countries.

Over the last decades, the Council of Europe has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence. One of the most important initiatives is the Recommendation (2002) 5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence. This legal instrument was the first international instrument to propose a holistic strategy to prevent violence and to protect victims, covering all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence.

The Recommendation spells out clearly that states have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence, whether those acts are perpetrated by the state or private persons, and provide protection for victims. Invoking custom, religion or tradition are no excuses to evading this obligation.

As regards the measures the Recommendation puts forward, it does not only list legal measures to criminalise all forms of violence against women - such as sexual violence and rape in the marriage - but it also covers protective and preventive measures leading to concrete action in the service sector, education, training and media.

I warmly invite you read through the Recommendation - which you have in your Seminar folders - in order to find out what it is that you - as responsible service providers or as policemen, health care and social service professionals, can and should do in order to ensure the protection, recovery and empowerment of victims.

As you know, despite many positive developments in policies and practices, violence against women remains widespread in Europe. It is still too often approached as an issue belonging to the private sphere and explained away as a family matter beyond legitimate reach of public intervention.

This is why the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe decided on further action to eradicate violence against women during their 3rd Summit of the Council of Europe.

They decided to set up a Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence and also to conduct a pan-European Campaign on this topic in close co-operation with other European and national actors, including NGOs.

Ms Helena Ewalds who represents the Task Force will tell you shortly more about their on-going work and their role in supporting the Campaign.

Ladies and gentleman,

We have gathered here today to participate in the fourth of five regional seminars to be organised this year within the framework of this Campaign. At this point I would like to thank the host authorities for the excellent organisation of this seminar and co-operation with the Council of Europe.

Each seminar organised within the Council of Europe Campaign focuses on different thematic areas laid out in the objectives of the Campaign blueprint. The previous three seminars have dealt with legal measures, men’s roles in combating domestic violence and data collection. You can find the summaries of the main discussions of these seminars on the table outside this room and more information is also available on the Campaign website.

This seminar is devoted to support and protection measures provided by three professional groups. The police, health care professionals and social workers are key actors in the prevention of violence and they play a critical role in supporting and assisting the victims of violence and their families.

Many surveys demonstrate that victims of violence don’t usually rely on professional help and protection. Instead, they rely on informal social support - for example, confiding to a close friend.

According to a national survey carried out in Finland, when official help is sought, it is most frequently sought from health service providers and next from the police. A German study demonstrates that abused women seek help first from the health services, followed by social services and only thirdly do they turn to the police.

It is clear from here that strengthening these strategically important professions and increasing their ability to proactively respond to the first signs of psychological and physical abuse is essential.

Multi-sectoral approaches and the building of coalitions of different governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations is equally important in this context. As soon as the first contact is made with public officials, all other agencies, service providers and NGOs should be alerted and prepared for providing protection and support to the victim.

The Council of Europe Recommendation (2002)5 clearly states that all victims should receive appropriate and gender-sensitive support and protection by all service providers and to that end, protocols for operation should be adopted so that the police, health services and social services follow the same procedure.

During the next two days you will hear keynote presentations by professionals who work directly within the police, health care and social sector or whose work is directly linked to these sectors. In addition, you will be able to share your national experiences and exchange good practices in these areas.

I would like to stress that it is equally important to share the concerns and remaining obstacles you are faced with as our main aim in this Campaign is to find efficient and long-standing solutions in the ways women can be protected from violence. Therefore, I would invite you to make the most of these two days and I look forward to your contributions.

To conclude, I would like to recall that women suffering from violence are not only victims of abuse, they are also victims of silence, victims of indifference and victims of neglect. You can think where you as professionals could have helped her to escape the cycle of violence.

I would now like to invite Ms Helena Ewalds from the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence to take the floor.

1 Figures taken from Stocktaking study on the measures and actions taken in Council of Europe member States to combat violence against women, 2006