Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women,
Including Domestic Violence

Interview with Professor Carol Hagemann-White,
Chair of General Pedagogy and Gender Studies, University of Osnabrück, Germany

Many national actors are not fully aware that overcoming violence against women is a “long haul”. There is a tendency for efforts to stagnate, as if a one-time measure - a media campaign, a new law, a new service- could take care of the problem. The specific contribution of this campaign should be to make everyone aware that sustained efforts by multiple actors in cooperation are indispensable.

The most urgent need is to develop woman-centred services where few or none exist, and give them secure and stable foundations everywhere, since the first priority of intervention must be the safety of the victim from further violence.

In all countries, much must be done to ensure that all statutory agencies – the police, the prosecutors and the courts, child protection services and the health care system, at the minimum – are fully aware of the extent of the problem and trained to respond appropriately, recognizing that there is no excuse for violence.

There can be no priority here, but the two must be linked. Where violence can be committed with impunity, society’s norms are undermined and no resocialisation is possible. However, many forms of intimate partner violence are difficult to prove in court, so resocialisation programs should be open to men who enter due to moral pressure, for example by child protection services.

Violence against women has a dual foundation: It is rooted in the cultural, social and legal traditions that define women as subordinate to men, and not full and equal citizens. And it is rooted in the respect for violence itself that persists - and resurges - whenever individuals or groups are not competent or secure enough to solve conflicts constructively. In addition, violence feeds on violence: it can become a need, a habit, or even a day’s work.

Thus, policy responses must interrupt or stop the violence whenever possible. To bring about real change, policy must work towards full gender equality on the one hand, and towards a true and deep cultural and social rejection of violence on the other.

There have been at least 16 national representative studies in Europe alone, and the evidence is that no country, no social or religious milieu is free of serious, repeated and severe domestic violence. However, “universal” does not mean that the problem looks exactly the same everywhere. The multi-country study published by the WHO in 2005 found that in some countries, more than a third of all women had been subjected to severe physical violence by a partner, often with injuries requiring medical care, whilst in Ireland or in Germany, for example, it was about 9%.

Links between social class or religion and domestic violence vary among surveys and are generally rather weak, but social exclusion and poverty do seem to increase the risk of boys and men using violence both inside and outside the family. Most domestic violence, however, is exercised by men who are not violent in the public sphere; it is an abusive pattern of coercive control.

The city of Vienna has implemented the Austrian law on domestic violence, both training the police to expel perpetrators from the home, and setting up pro-active services to contact the victims with information and advice. It also has secure financing for shelters as a permanent part of the city budget, recognizing a public duty to provide sustainable and professionally staffed services for this need. With this parallel structure they now meet the needs of many more women than either service could do alone.

In Slovenia, the nursing staff in all hospitals has been trained to screen for domestic violence, including training on appropriate and helpful response when violence is uncovered. This can reach out to many women who would not find their way to specialized services.

Women’s NGOs in the West Balkan countries have built a network across the multiple lines of division and conflict to work together against domestic violence. With the support of a foundation in the Netherlands, they assessed the situation in each country against international standards, making recommendations for further progress.

Spain has passed a comprehensive “organic law” on gender-based violence that gives careful consideration to the various aspects of effective implementation and is integrated into the existing legal frameworks.
Despite the challenges of a federal structure, Germany has put civil, criminal and police law measures in place to implement the principle that it is the perpetrator who should have to leave. With the help of NGOs, Berlin established a telephone hotline and a small mobile intervention team that can call on translators in 54 languages as needed. There are plans to extend this to a national hotline.

In the UK, there has been a concerted effort to bring together services for women and services for children who have witnessed domestic violence. In new regulations, knowledge of familial violence - usually against the mother- is accepted by child protection services as harmful to the child.

The costs of not intervening are far higher than the expenses for measures to prevent violence from continuing. Seven European studies have made data-based estimates of the annual cost to society of domestic violence. These costs arise in the health sector as a consequence of harm to victims, in the police and justice systems, especially because repeated interventions must be made as the violence escalates, in the economy through loss of work time and work productivity, and in social services such as housing or social payments. Overall costs can be said to average some 40 € per capita of population. For a country with a population of 10 million, that would mean 400 million € lost by failure to act. Good programs of intervention and training can be established for a fraction of that.

Even more devastating to economic productivity and social cohesion is the long-term damage to women and to the children who witness unchecked violence; over time, violence also destroys the family unit as a place of safety and care for the young and the old. No modern society can afford NOT to invest in preventing domestic violence!