The first priority when responding to gender-based violence must be to respond to the needs of victims/survivors, and ensure that they are properly protected.

A number of different institutions and organisations may play a role in offering this protection – e.g. social services, the police, and the courts. The state officially has a responsibility for support services, but in many communities, they will be provided by third parties such as civil society organisations and in particular by women’s organisations.

Responses to gender-based violence need to ensure:

  • A victim-centred approach;
  • Accessibility for all victims;
  • Confidentiality and privacy for victims and survivors;
  • The safety and well-being of victims/survivors (and any accompanying children);
  • Full accountability for perpetrators;
  • Effective access for victims/survivors to legal remedies and legal aid, free where possible;
  • That power imbalances and gender inequality are taken into account when designing further support systems for victims/survivors, including possible empowerment strategies.

Some practical measures to respect these principles might include:

  • Round-the-clock free telephone lines providing information, support and counselling;
  • Immediate points of contact so that victims/survivors can easily access medical and legal services;
  • Provision of safe accommodation, for example: safety houses and shelters, opportunities for victims to keep using their home, with continual assessment of risk, relocation support for long term needs, etc.;
  • Access to gender sensitive primary health care and specialist gender-based violence services;
  • Advocacy and legal support, including free legal assistance, advice, advocacy, and court support services for victims/survivors;
  • Accessible information about rights and entitlements, including free access to qualified and impartial interpreters and the translation of legal documents, where necessary or where requested;
  • Emergency barring orders in cases of domestic violence;
  • Access to counselling, both short and long term, including access to support groups;
  • Facilitating the economic independence of victims/survivors from their abusers;
  • Support for the professional and social reintegration of victims/survivors, focusing on ensuring their capacity to make decisions about their lives. This may include training, support finding work, support finding long-term accommodation, and assistance building a social network of support.

Prosecution of perpetrators needs to be built into policy measures to address gender violence. However, in addition to prosecution and punishment – where appropriate -work with the perpetrators of gender-based violence can also help to reduce the chances of their returning to patterns of violence. It is worth noting that in some cases of domestic violence, victims choose to return home and resume relationships. In such cases it is important that there are services available which work with perpetrators to reduce violent behaviour.

Such services might include the provision of counselling to address the root causes of violence, or training and education on gender-based violence. Work with men only groups is often helpful.


National helplines

The Secretariat of the Istanbul Convention maintains a list of national helplines available in Europe.

Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence

The United Nations Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence has developed service delivery guidelines for services to be provided by the health, social services, police and justice sectors as well as guidelines for the coordination of essential services and the governance of coordination processes and mechanisms.