The police always come late - if they come at all.

Tracy Chapman


Participants discuss case studies to analyse the causes of, and ways to prevent different types of domestic violence.

Related rights

• Right to life, liberty and personal security
• Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
• The right to equality before the law


• To deepen awareness about different forms of domestic violence
• To develop skills to discuss and analyse human rights violations
• To promote empathy and the self-confidence to take a stand against domestic violence


• Large sheets of paper or a board and pens for the brainstorm and group work.
• Choose one or more of the case studies or write your own. Make enough copies for one per participant.
• Copies of the "Guidelines for group discussions" (one per small group)


• Contact organisations active in the support of victims of domestic violence in your country or community.
• Consider carefully the issues related to domestic violence you wish to address during the activity, and be prepared to help any participants should any issue prove to be too personal.

Key Date
  • 25 NovemberInternational Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


1. Introduce the topic by making a brainstorm of "the most common forms of violence in our neighbourhood". Write down everything that the participants say but do not discuss anything at this stage. Leave the flipchart or board where everyone can see it.
2. Ask people to get into small groups of between two and six people per group. There should be at least three groups.
3. Hand out the copies of the case studies and the "Guidelines for group discussions".
4. Give participants five minutes to read through the case studies. Stress that their discussions should be focused on these case studies. Participants should be aware that discussions about domestic violence can be very personal and that no one should feel under pressure to disclose more than they want.
5. Allow the participants one hour for their group work.
6. At the end, come into plenary and move on to the evaluation and debriefing.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start with a short review of how the group work went. Could the events in case studies have taken place in your town? How relevant were the questions? If different groups worked with different case studies, let the groups feedback on their analyses of the different crimes. Then go on to talk about the relevance to your lives:
• How prevalent is domestic violence in your community and in your country as a whole?
• Which human rights are at stake?
• What are the causes of domestic violence?
• Why is it that there are more cases of men being violent towards women than of women being violent towards men?
• How can domestic violence be stopped? What could/should be done by:
 - the public authorities?
 - the local community?
 - the people involved?
 - friends and neighbours?
• Reflect on the different forms of violence that have been discussed. Look again at the initial brainstorming list. Are there more points to add to the list?
Ask if anyone would like to work further on any of the issues raised and discuss how they would like to follow up or take action.

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimised, men are also abused — especially verbally and emotionally. Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
The majority of violent domestic incidents are against women and occur at home, hence the title "Domestic affairs". However, sometimes, if rarely, the abuser is a woman; therefore we have included Hans' story.

When considering this activity, be aware of the need for sensitivity and anonymity/privacy (some participants may have personal experiences of domestic violence at home or in the family). Make it clear that no one should feel under pressure to disclose more than they want. You should feel free to change some of the details or to substitute other case studies in order to meet the needs of the participants.

Male participants may react strongly to the activity or to some of the discussions. It is important to bear in mind that the purpose is not to make men or boys feel guilty for what other men do. Nonetheless, some people argue that men are part of an oppressive patriarchal system and thus play a part in it, a postulate that can lead to some interesting discussions. You may also like to explore the consequences of men's violence against women on the men themselves, both directly and indirectly.

Ending the session with a minute's silence for the victims of domestic violence is a powerful way to close the activity and promote empathy and solidarity.

VariationsGoto top

Some of the group could be set to begin to act out one of the scenes; the rest are the audience. The facilitator stops the play at intervals and invites the onlookers to suggest alternative behaviours that could have diffused the situation and lead to a positive outcome.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

The group could get in touch with the local police and find out what they do when they receive calls for help in cases of domestic violence. Another possibility is to contact their nearest women's help organisation and invite a speaker to present facts and figures about the situation in their local community.

Another almost taboo subject in many countries is sexuality - and homosexuality in particular. If the group would like to explore these issues, they could look at the activity, "Let's talk about sex".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Contact a local women's refuge or information centre or an organisation working for women's rights and find out what their needs are and how you can help them.

Further informationGoto top

Although women can be the abusers and abuse in same-sex relationships is gradually beginning to be acknowledged, the evidence is that, in the overwhelming number of cases, it is women and girls who are the victims of abuse by men. For this reason the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. It 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". It encompasses, but is not limited to "physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women; non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere; trafficking in women and forced prostitution; and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs".
For information about CEDAW, see  chapter 5 on Gender.


Violence against women throughout the life cycle
Phase Type of violence
Pre-birth Sex-selective abortion; effects of battering during pregnancy on birth outcomes
Infancy Female infanticide; physical, sexual and psychological abuse
Childhood Child marriage; female genital mutilation; physical, sexual and psychological abuse; incest; child prostitution and pornography
and adulthood
Dating and courtship violence (e.g. acid-throwing and date rape); economically coerced sex (e.g. school girls having sex with “sugar
daddies” in return for school fees); incest; sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment; forced prostitution and pornography;
trafficking in women; partner violence; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; abuse of women with disabilities; forced pregnancy
Elderly Forced “suicide” or homicide of widows for economic reasons; sexual, physical and psychological abuse
  Source: Violence Against Women Information Pack – World Health Organisation, 1997


Domestic violence

Violation of women's human rights of is not something that only happens in war. It is something that happens first and foremost at home. "The ‘private' nature of this violence is exactly what has always made and still makes intervention and action so difficult."
Research consistently demonstrates that a woman is more likely to be injured, raped or killed by a current of former partner than by any other person . Domestic violence affects not only the woman but also the children, with a particularly high incidence amongst girls and young women.

Silent Witnesses exhibition

This activity was inspired by an exhibition on domestic violence and the murder of women, which was brought to the European Youth Centre Budapest by NANE Women's Rights Association (Budapest, Hungary), including the stories about Eszter and Kati. This exhibition was aimed at raising public awareness of the dimensions and brutality of domestic violence and murder by telling the stories of murdered women, the ‘silent witnesses'.

Organising a Silent Witnesses exhibition can be a very practical and effective way of addressing domestic violence in your community, in your town or in your region. There are books on how to make the witnesses and how to organise the exhibition, including a book called "Results" which tells about the first years of the campaign in the USA and lists a handful of stories which could be used as examples. The website's address is It also contains a long list of international contacts that already have such exhibits.

Europe's first law specifically on gender-based violence.

The Organic Act on integrated protection measures against gender violence. On 22 December 2004, Spain adopted a law that provides for the creation of special courts and integral rehabilitation centres, improved assistance to victims, and a series of procedures aimed at protecting women under threat.

UN Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women

In June 2009 the UN established the office of Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. In 2010 the first appointee, Rashida Manjoo, produced the first thematic report submitted to the Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences. See the report at

Additional resources on the Internet


The cases of Kati and Eszter are reported by Morvai Krisztina in Terror a családban –
A feleségbántalmazás és a jog (Terror in the Family – Wife Battering and the Law), Kossuth Kiadó, Budapest 1998.

  • The European Information Centre Against Violence has a database of women's help organisations throughout Europe.
  • The European Women's Lobby.
  • is the European Women's Lobby Centre on Violence Against Women's website. It has extensive information about VAW (violence against women), including country reports.
  • The White Ribbon Campaign is "the largest effort of men working to end men's violence against women".
  • EuroPRO-Fem, European Pro-feminist Men's Network, is a network of organisations and projects of men concerned with male domination, violence and oppression of women.
  • The International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies has information about every country in the world.
  • The site of the UN development fund for women is a useful site for information about gender issues and violence against women.

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Case study 1 – Eszter

He started an argument with his wife, accusing her of not having done any washing, cooking and other housework. At the same time he kept beating her; he hit her head and face with his bare hands. He tore out handfuls of her hair and kicked her with his boots. Then he stripped the clothes from her upper body and threw her on the bed with the intention of beating her further.
All this happened in front of their 8-year-old daughter who begged him to stop. Then he did stop. He threw Eszter out of the bed and fell asleep.
Eszter died that night.

Case study 2 – Kati

Kati tried to escape from her fiancé who was becoming increasingly abusive. She found a flat to rent in another city but he kept phoning and harassing her. Kati’s mental state deteriorated.
One day, the fiancé went to get her after work to make her move back. He took her to a nearby forest, where he tried to strangle her with her pullover. The next day Kati told her colleagues at work that she was afraid he would one day strangle and kill her.
Four days later the fiancé had a few drinks. Again, he waited for her after work and when she came out he started to beat her. In the evening, he decided that they should visit relatives. On the way they stopped the car several times. Kati, seeing the state he was in, agreed to have sex with him but he was too drunk.
Kati told her fiancé that she was not interested in him any more. This made him very angry. He grabbed a long leather belt and strangled her.
He then pulled her dead body into a ditch and covered her with tree branches.

Case study 3 – Maria

Maria was 70 years old. Her husband had died 10 years ago and she lived in a small house with her son, Philippe, aged 40.
Her son was unemployed and sometimes he drank a lot. Maria knew that he stole money from her purse, but most of time she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to create more problems. When he was drunk Philippe could be very violent and sometimes Maria had to shut herself into her room to escape from him.
One day, Philippe arrived home completely drunk and became upset because the dinner was not ready. When Maria told him that she had not made any because she was tired and sick, he started to smash up things in the room. Maria didn’t have the time and strength to escape and her son threw a chair at her. Maria tried to protect herself, but she fell and banged her head. A neighbour arrived, but it was too late. Maria died in a coma before reaching the hospital.

Case study 4 – Leandro

Leandro was 8 years old. He lived in a small flat together with his younger sister aged three, his mother and her boyfriend, Jan. Leandro never knew his father. He liked school but he didn’t like Jan. In fact, Jan could be violent and sometimes beated Leandro. Leandro was really afraid of Jan, had difficulty sleeping and had lost his appetite. Leandro’s school teacher noticed that and wanted to meet the parents because she felt that Leandro was not doing as well as he should, he had difficulty paying attention and could sometimes be violent with his friends. The mother met the teacher but didn’t say anything about the situation at home. When she got back home, she told Jan what the teacher had said. Jan got very upset and beated Leandro again, this time breaking his arm. At the hospital, the mother lied and says that Leandro fell.

Case study 5 – Banaz

Banaz had made several attempts to warn police that her life was in danger. In December 2005, her father attacked her and tried to kill her. She was really scared and went to the police. However her statement was not taken seriously enough by investigating officers.
Banaz fled but later went back to her family and tried to carry on her relationship with her boyfriend, in secret, but both were threatened with death if they carried on seeing each other. Banaz was urged to stay at a safe house but she believed she would be safe at home because her mother was there.
Banaz disappeared on 24 January and her decomposed body was discovered in a suitcase buried in a garden three months later. At the trial, her father and uncle said that they had ordered the murder because they believed she had shamed the family by falling in love with a man her family did not want her to marry. Banaz was just 20 years old.; 11 June 2007

Case study 6 – Amira

Amira was four years old when her family fled war-torn Somalia and settled in a city in Europe, where her early childhood life seemed immeasurably better.
Then one morning when she was eleven years old, Amira’s mother suggested they visit her aunt, so Amira could play with her cousin, who was her own age. What Amira did not know was that her mother and aunt had secretly arranged for a “cutter” to travel from Mogadishu to circumcise their daughters. They believed that it was necessary otherwise the girls would never get husbands.
Suddenly her mother and aunt grabbed Amira. “They held me down, and then a woman I had never met before began cutting. I screamed, and my aunt put her hand tightly over my mouth,” she says. “Promise no one will ever know that I’ve spoken to you,” begged Amira, “if people in my community find out, they’ll say that I’ve betrayed them and I’ll have to run away. And anyway, I don’t want my parents to be sent to jail.”
Adapted from 3 January 2008 and

Case study 7 – Denise

“I am a victim of incest; I was raped by my father when I was fifteen years old. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. However, this time, I became pregnant.
One night, I became very sick and my parents took me to the hospital. The emergency room doctor discovered that, along with a very bad case of the flu, I was 19 weeks pregnant. The doctor informed me that I was pregnant and asked me what I wanted. In spite of the pain and guilt I felt, I refused to have an abortion. My father flew into an uncontrollable rage and demanded that I consent. The doctor refused because of my wishes.
My father demanded that an abortionist be found and within one hour, this man arrived at the hospital. I tried to get off the examining table but he asked three nurses to hold me while he strapped me to the bed and injected me with a muscle relaxant to keep me from struggling. I continued to scream that I didn’t want an abortion. He told me, ‘Shut up and quit that yelling!’ Eventually, I was placed under general anesthesia.”
Adapted from

Case study 8 – Hans

Antonia had been harassing and haranguing her husband, Hans, for several years. One time Antonia had said that she felt like running him over with a car. On another occasion she falsely accused him of molesting her children. Letters accusing Hans of pedophilia showed up in neighbors’ mailboxes. Police did not believe the accusations but they did suspect that Antonia had something to do with the letters.
Three years ago they separated and a year later they divorced.
A few months ago, Antonia followed Hans home from work and threw a lighted ornament filled with kerosene at him. The ornament didn’t ignite, but detectives later found kerosene on the door and walls.
One day Hans was walking his dog when a woman jogged up to him. A bang sounded. He screamed and scrambled toward his apartment and dashed inside chased by the woman. Police and medics found him dying on the floor of his dining room. The medics couldn’t save him; the bullet had entered his right shoulder and ravaged his lungs, lodging in the aorta.
Adapted from:

Guidelines for the group discussions

I - The analysis of the crime (20 minutes)
1. What do you think of the crime as reported?
2. Where might such a crime have happened? Could it be in your neighbourhood?
3. Why has the crime happened?
4. Can such a crime be justified?
5. How could the victim have defended him / herself?

II – Transfer to social reality (40 minutes)
6. Do you know of, or have you heard of any cases of domestic violence recently?
7. What forms does domestic violence take in our society?
8. What can the victims do if they need help?
9. Should the police intervene if they hear of violence or could such intervention be considered as
interference in people’s private affairs and in breach of their human rights?
10. What power do the victims have in such situations? What power do the perpetrators have?
11. Have you heard of cases of domestic violence in which a man is the victim?
12. List some of the causes of domestic violence.
13. How can domestic violence be prevented and stopped?
14. What could/should be done by:
a. the public authorities?
b. the local community?
c. the people involved?
d. friends and neighbours?