Freedom from violence against women

  • Violence against women is a human rights abuse that is widespread across all Council of Europe member states.
  • The case law of the European Court of Human Rights requires states to act against all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual violence.
  • Judgments from the European court have helped to advance women's rights and protect against discrimination across the continent. 
  • They also helped to inspire the Council of Europe's legally-binding convention on violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.



Vulnerable victims of domestic violence gain exemption from “bedroom tax”

A woman at severe risk of domestic violence faced eviction from her specially-adapted home because cuts to housing benefits meant she could no longer afford the rent. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the woman was discriminated against because of her gender. The UK then changed the law to exempt women like her from changes to the benefit rules.

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The landmark judgment that inspired Europe to act on violence against women

Nahide Opuz was abused by her husband for years. The violence tragically led to the murder of her mother. The European court ruled that Turkey had not done enough to protect Nahide and her mother, and, for the first time ever, that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination. The judgment helped to inspire international efforts to prevent and combat violence against women.

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Forced sterilisation of Roma woman leads to stricter rules on consent to treatment

V.C. was a victim of forced sterilisation, a practice that persisted in Slovakia for decades, disproportionately affecting Roma women. The European court ruled that the procedure, carried out whilst V.C. was giving birth, amounted to ill-treatment. Slovakia brought in new rules on patients’ consent to treatment after it emerged that many other Roma women had been unlawfully sterilised.

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Justice for family of murdered mother and daughter

M.T. and her infant daughter, V.T., were shot dead by a man who had just been released from prison after making violent threats against them. M.T. and V.T.’s family believed that the authorities had not done enough to protect them. The European court agreed. Its judgment in their case led Croatia to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence.

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Deadly attack on woman and her son leads to ongoing reforms to combat domestic violence

Elisaveta Talpis’s husband physically abused her for years. She complained to the police, but they took no action for months. One night Elisaveta’s husband attacked her with a knife, wounding her and killing her son when he tried to intervene. The European court condemned the police’s inaction, leading to reforms to address domestic violence in Italy.

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Better protection for victims of sexual violence after police fail to properly investigate rape allegation

B.V. tried for years to get the authorities to investigate her allegations of rape and sexual assault. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Belgian authorities had not investigated B.V.’s allegations in a serious or thorough way. Belgium has since taken many steps to better protect victims of sexual violence.

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Afghan woman facing gender-based persecution saved from expulsion

Sweden refused to grant N. asylum despite her claims that she would face gender-based persecution if she was returned to her native Afghanistan. An expulsion order against her was cancelled after the European court ruled that it violated her human rights.

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Legal aid system introduced after woman suffering from domestic violence was unable to access the courts

Mrs Airey wanted to be legally separated from her husband, who was allegedly a violent alcoholic. However, there was no legal aid and she could not afford the lawyers’ fees. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the lack of legal aid effectively denied Mrs Airey access to a court, breaching her basic rights. Legal aid for such cases was introduced in Ireland in the following year.

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Official apology for woman asked offensive questions by alleged abuser in court

Y. was 14 years old when she told her mother that she had been sexually assaulted. An investigation into her claims dragged on for years, and when her case eventually came to trial, Y. was asked humiliating questions by her alleged abuser. The European court ruled that the authorities had failed to properly protect her. The ruling caused Slovenia’s Minister of Justice to apologise to Y.

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More support for victims after mother and daughters win domestic violence case

Doina and Mariana often witnessed their father beating their mother, Lilia. No firm action was taken against him after he repeatedly broke a restraining order banning him from visiting the family home. The European Court of Human Rights found that the authorities had not done enough to protect Lilia and her daughters. This led Moldova to take steps to tackle domestic violence.

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Justice for the mother of two murdered children

Dana Kontrová repeatedly warned the police that her husband was violent and unstable. One day the police failed to take action after being told the man was threatening his family with a shotgun. Two days later he murdered his children before committing suicide. The European court ruled that the authorities had failed in their duty to protect the children, violating the right to life.

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Librarian strangled and beaten by her partner wins justice for domestic violence victims

Loreta Valiulienė told the authorities that she had been attacked by her partner. However, the public prosecutor repeatedly failed to investigate properly, until the case became time barred and the partner never faced justice. The European court ruled that these failures had violated Loreta's rights. A series of reforms were carried out to combat domestic violence in Lithuania.

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Justice for a victim of domestic violence in Romania

Bruised and beaten, Angelica Bălșan suffered eight assaults from her husband and sustained injuries that required up to ten days of medical care. She complained to the authorities, but they took no proper steps to protect her. The European court held that Angelica had been inadequately protected against the abuse – leading to ongoing reforms to combat domestic violence in Romania.

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 Istanbul Convention website

Factsheets on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights:

 Domestic violence PDF (287 Ko)

 Violence against women PDF (276 Ko)

 Domestic violence: Measures adopted and reported by States (Execution of judgments) PDF (679 Ko)