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Statement on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and Council on combating violence against women and domestic violence

We welcome the acute awareness and astute analysis of the ensuing problems and gaps in the current Istanbul Convention on violence against women and children that led to the proposed directive of the European Parliament and Council. We especially appreciate the differentiated and gender-based definition of violence against women as a human rights violation, the acknowledgement of gender-based violence as a structural problem, the extended focus on children, the inclusion of LGBTIQ and the approach to cyber violence.

However, a significant factor in preventing violence is vastly underrated: perpetrator programmes. We acknowledge the importance of victim support and fully support the necessity of their adequate funding. Nevertheless, violence will not stop if we don’t address the source of violence: perpetrators. While we agree on legal measures against perpetrators, we have seen repeatedly that punishment alone will not deter them from further violence.

Extensive scientific research on perpetrator programmes in Germany has provided evidence that perpetrator work is effective in stopping physical and psychic violence, provided they work due to specific standards and within a time frame of 9 – 12 months.i The evidence was so convincing that Germany passed a bill about perpetrator accountability to give prosecution and courts more latitude to send perpetrators to perpetrator programmes.

Art. 12, Penalties, paragraph 3, states that only sexual offenders who have repeatedly offended should be referred to perpetrator programmes. We strongly disagree. The earlier perpetrator programmes can take effect, the less likely are repeated offences. Sexual offenders should be compelled to participate in perpetrator programmes even as first offenders. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that perpetrator programmes should also be mandatory for stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence to prevent repeated and increasing violence and possible femicides. This should be included in Art. 21, Emergency Barring, Restraining and Protection Orders.

Art. 16 and 17: While we agree that prosecution of perpetrators is an essential part of victim protection, we are also very much aware of how complex and re-traumatising court proceedings can be for victims. Victims must keep agency over whether they want to prosecute or not. Victim support services should under no circumstances be obliged to break confidentiality and report to the police. Without confidentiality insurance, victims will not seek help at victim support services.

In Art. 18, Individual Assessment to Identify Victims‘ Protection Needs, paragraph 6, we highly recommend including the expertise of professionals working with perpetrators. Understanding perpetrator strategies will help to better understand the potential risks to the victim and what kind of protection is needed.

WWP and BAGTähG fully support Art. 22, Protection of Victim’s Private Life. The past sexual conduct of the victim or other aspects of her life cannot be used as an excuse for violence or to mitigate the severity of the crime.

Art. 23, Guidelines for law enforcement and judicial authorities: we recommend another two subsections: (h) on how to assess and screen for perpetrators, and (i) on how to refer perpetrators to perpetrator programmes as an additional safety measure for victims – i.e. perpetrators need to be accountable to the criminal justice system at stages of participation in perpetrator programs. Perpetrators should not be able to use perpetrator programmes to avoid penalties without any genuine intention of changing their behaviour.

Concerning Art. 33, Support for Child Victims, we want to point out that in many countries, medical, social and psychological care for child victims needs the consent of the abusive father, his violent conduct notwithstanding. Provisions should be made that perpetrators cannot prevent appropriate help for their children.

Perpetrators are known to use children to further harm their mothers in various ways. For example, they often use their right of access to their children to influence them against their mother and insult, humiliate, threaten and violate their ex-wives. So we wholeheartedly agree with the proposed measures of Art. 34 for the safety of children. In addition, the safety of children and their mothers could be significantly enhanced with perpetrator programmes that include specialised programmes for fathers, making them aware of how their violent behaviour affects their children and how to care for them appropriately. Therefore, we propose to add mandatory perpetrator programmes to Art. 34, Safety of Children. It is crucial to realise that unless specific provisions are made for the changes the father needs to make during the period of suspended visitation, the risk for women and children will only be postponed to the end of the court hearing and the period of „evaluation“ to which the perpetrator has been required to submit to.

We greatly appreciate Art. 37, Training and Information for Professionals. Mandatory training on gender-based violence, especially for the judicial system, is long overdue. In addition to information on victims‘ needs to avoid re-victimisation, we highly recommend training on perpetrator strategies. Stereotypes about perpetrators often lead to underestimating the risks for women and children. It is also essential for the judicial system to understand the scope and limits of perpetrator programs to not let participation in a perpetrator program influence the measures to protect the victim that should always stay a priority.

Whether perpetrators participate voluntarily in perpetrator programmes or are legally required to participate, most perpetrators share three common traits: 1. Denial; 2. Minimisation; 3. Victim blaming. These characteristics are considerable obstacles to change, and programmes need to work on creating an internal motivation to change by addressing these resistances. Professional perpetrator programmes can do this. Perpetrator programmes must adhere to certain minimum standards that should be included in Art. 38, Intervention programmes:

  • They should only be provided by trained professionals
  • They should have a gender-based and women’s rights approach
  • They need to be victim-oriented and include a full risk assessment
  • They need to hold perpetrators fully accountable
  • They have to be part of and willing to cooperate within multi-agency networks
  • They should strive to have a strong collaboration with women’s support services
  • They have to be adequately funded
  • They have to provide an evaluation of the outcome

Where perpetrator programmes have been successfully established, the risk of repeated violence has decreased significantly, including femicides. Perpetrator programmes contribute substantially to the safety of women and children.

Art. 40, Multi-Agency Coordination and Cooperation, and Art. 41, Cooperation with Non-Governmental Organisations: In areas where perpetrator work has successfully been included in multi-agency networks, the safety of women and children has increased multifold. Including professionals who work with perpetrators helps to fully comprehend perpetrator strategies and therefore assess risks to the victims more accurately.

Metaphorically speaking: while it is vital to give help to fire victims, we also have to extinguish the fire. Perpetrator programmes can do that. Perpetrator programmes are essential to preventing further violence and can provide lasting safety for women and children. Therefore perpetrator work should be given more visibility and acknowledgement within the new directive. Multi-agency cooperation against domestic violence will be more effective when incorporating perpetrator work.

WWP EN – Work with Perpetrators European Network
Founded in 2014, we now unite 66 members from 33 European countries. Our members include perpetrator programmes, researchers, and victim support services. We believe that gender-based violence violates women’s human rights and aim to create a gender-equitable world by supporting member organisations in their work with those who choose to use violence in intimate partnerships, primarily men. We are continuously researching and improving perpetrator programmes and evaluating their impact to ensure perpetrators do change their behaviour. Our primary focus is to ensure the safety of women and children.

Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Täterarbeit Häusliche Gewalt e.V. (BAG TäHG)
They are the profeminist umbrella organisation of perpetrator work in Germany. They work within multi-agency cooperations with violent persons exerting domestic violence. Their work is focused on victim safety and the prevention of violence. Their high-quality standards were developed in collaboration with women’s support services to ensure women’s and children’s safety. The BAG TäHG is a member of WWP EN.

This statement is supported by:

Dachverband Opferschutzorientierte Täterarbeit Österreich
Austrian Umbrella Organisation for Perpetrator Work

Relive – Relazioni Libere dalle Violenze
Italian Umbrella Organisation for Perpetrator Work


Linda Conradi

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