Domestic violence is one of the most serious and pervasive forms of violence against women. It exists in all Council of Europe member states and occurs at all levels of society. Domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men against former or current intimate partners, although it is recognised that violence is also perpetrated by women and occurs in same-sex relationships.

Violence is used to exert power and control over another individual. Domestic violence typically comprises abusive and coercive behaviour such as physical, psychological or sexual abuse. A common pattern of domestic violence often starts with intimidation, humiliation and threatening behaviour, including threats of self-inflicted pain. Violence is reinforced by establishing control over another person’s life through isolation, manipulation and by placing limits on personal choices and freedoms. A typical pattern of violence may also involve economic abuse by denying financial independence and controlling economic decisions. Violent behaviour of this sort can never be considered a series of unconnected events as actual physical violence is often the end result of months or years of intimidation and control.

Domestic violence leads to serious health damage, physically and emotionally, and may end fatally. Apart form physical injuries, it causes fear, distress and loss of self-confidence. Physical and sexual violence are employed to aggravate the feeling of vulnerability, lack of control over one’s own body and feelings of hopelessness and shame. As a result of this, it destroys the victim’s will power and prevents them from being free and safe.

Domestic violence needs to be understood in a wider social context which permits the perpetrators to assume the right to use violence as a means of exercising dominance and control. As it is mainly perpetrated against women because they are women, it constitutes a form of gender-based violence. If not addressed adequately, it constitutes a violation of women’s human rights.

Defining violence against women is not easy, for it is a concept that admits of more than one interpretation. Most international instruments and national texts on the subject define it in broad terms. The Council of Europe did the same and chose a definition that covers all forms of gender-based violence, regardless of where and by whom it is perpetrated, and whatever the circumstances. In its Recommendation Rec (2002) 5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence, adopted on 30 April 2002, it spells out the following definition of violence against women in general and that of domestic violence in particular, which will be used for the purpose of this Campaign:

 “[…] the term “violence against women” is to be understood as any act of gender-based violence, which 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. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: a. violence occurring in the family or domestic unit, including, inter alia, physical and mental aggression, emotional and psychological abuse, rape and sexual abuse, incest, rape between spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants, crimes committed in the name of honour, female genital and sexual mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, such as forced marriages. “