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Opening speech by Deputy Secretary General
Maud de Boer-Buquicchio
at the Regional seminar on “Support and protection for victims of domestic violence: Services needed”
(Espoo, Finland, 8 October)

I should like to thank the Finnish authorities for hosting this seminar and organising it together with the Council of Europe, as well as for their invaluable support for the overall Council of Europe Campaign.

The Council of Europe, which brings together 47 European countries with 800 million citizens, was created to protect and promote human rights. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a direct attack on the values the Council of Europe was set up to defend.

Those who abuse women are violating their human rights and committing a criminal offence.

But women suffering from violence are not only victims of abuse, they are also victims of indifference and victims of neglect. As long as we continue to turn a blind eye towards violence against women in our societies, we cannot speak about true equality between women and men.

Allow me give you some figures on the prevalence of violence: a study published by the Council of Europe last year 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 an abusive relationship after the age of 16. Many more continue to suffer physical and sexual violence from former partners even after they separate.

These disturbing figures show that domestic violence is far from being an isolated phenomenon. It happens in all countries, in all social environments, it may be affecting your colleagues, your friends, your family, or yourself.

This study also provides figures on the estimated annual costs of violence to society. The results indicate that the total cost of violence against women in Council of Europe member states ranges from 9.2 euros to 555 euros per capita per year. I will leave it to you to multiply this by 800 million.

The wide gap between the two figures can be explained by the costs and services included in the estimates. The lower figures only concern women who sought victim support services. The higher figure includes - with a view to long-term effects of violence – healthcare costs, social services - including help and assistance to children - civil legal costs, criminal justice sector, employment, housing, human and emotional costs.

The Council of Europe has worked for decades to prevent and combat violence against women by undertaking a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence. One of the most important texts is Recommendation 5 on the protection of women against violence which was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2002. This text was the first international instrument to propose a comprehensive strategy to prevent violence and protect its victims. It covers all forms of gender-based violence and recommends specific measures from detailed legal and policy measures to services and assistance to victims as well as concrete action in the fields of education, training and media.

Despite the positive developments in policies and practices, violence against women in its various forms remains widespread at all levels of society and in all Council of Europe member states. Violence against women is still too often seen as an issue belonging to the private sphere and brushed off as a family matter which is beyond the reach of public intervention.

This is why we work to change the hearts and minds of people. To this end, we are conducting this Campaign to bring home the message that violence against women is simply unacceptable. No custom, religion or tradition can be invoked to justify this violation of human rights.

This Campaign aims at encouraging member states to adopt a comprehensive approach to protecting women against violence. It should include a solid legal zero tolerance approach to all forms of violence against women. As an example, sexual violence and rape within marriage should be penalised in every member state.

The Campaign, with its parliamentary, governmental and local authorities dimension, is co-ordinated by a Task Force which has the task to ensure that the Campaign meets its objectives.

The Council of Europe Campaign calls for the national governments, parliaments and local and regional authorities to work together in combating violence against women. Out of 47 member states 42 have appointed a governmental focal point and 50 individual members of parliament have been nominated to liaise with the Council of Europe Campaign.

The Council of Europe Campaign will end in June 2008. However, the work should not and will not end there. Member states are encouraged to continue national actions and launch national Campaigns to combat violence against women as a follow-up to the Council of Europe Campaign.

At the European level, we are waiting for the conclusions of the Task Force which will not only assess whether the Campaign has fulfilled its objectives, but also make recommendations as to how this issue should be addressed in the future.

In my view, the important discrepancies of national legislation in this area and the number of loopholes that need to be filled, warrant a Council of Europe Convention.

In 2007, we have organised four regional seminars focusing on different thematic areas covered by the Campaign. The previous seminars have dealt with legal measures, men’s roles in combating domestic violence, data collection and protection and support services provided by the police, health care professionals and social workers.

This seminar - which highlights a state’s obligation to provide support and protection for women as well as the organisation of and preconditions for providing support services - will end the series of regional seminars organised this year.

A comprehensive approach to combating violence against women also requires the member states to adopt national policies which are based on maximum safety and protection of victims. Optimal support and assistance structures should be set up to empower victims. Re-victimisation should be avoided when in contact with public officials and service providers.
To provide all women help and assistance, it is not sufficient that support services such as help-lines, shelters and crisis centres are established only in bigger urban settlements. Victims living in rural areas should not be made to travel – with or without children - tens or hundreds of kilometres to find refuge and appropriate support and assistance, in their own language. On the same note, it is not sufficient that support and protection is provided only for immediate crisis situation. Women should be properly informed at all stages of their legal and social rights and of the measures to protect them from further violence.

It is usual for women who have suffered violence to require professional support for many years after the physical violence has occurred. This might include long-term health services, financial support, legal services, social work and children’s services, education and training.

With a view to the long lifeline of recovery of victims reflecting various needs and types of support women will need, Recommendation 5 urges member states to set up, at national level, a co-ordinated governmental body in charge of the implementation of measures to combat violence against women in co-operation with regional and local authorities. In addition, this governmental body should be tasked with the regular monitoring and evaluation of any legal reform or new form of intervention in this field, in consultation with NGOs, academic and other institutions.

During this two day seminar, you will hear keynote presentations on which services are needed and how they should be organised and co-ordinated in order to meet the victims’ needs. In addition, you will hear how member states have enforced their obligation to provide victims with support and protection at national, regional and local level.

To fight domestic violence successfully, we must step up co-operation and co-ordination at all levels.

I hope that this seminar will help you to exchange information and good practices and that you will be able to return to your countries with fresh ideas on how to pursue our common objective – make a positive difference for women who suffer from abuse, and prevent others from becoming future victims.