Overview of existing evidence from all EU Member States

AuthorEuropean Institute for Gender Equality (EU body or agency)
2. Overview of existing evidence from all EU Member States
15Intimate partner violence and witness intervention: what are the deciding factors?
2. Overview of existing evidence from all
EU Member States
(7) This includes the United Kingdom. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom was in a transition period and had not yet fully exited the European Union.
(8) Among the EU Member States, ratication of the convention is pending in Bulgaria, Czechia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and the United Kingdom
(Council of Europe, 2020).
Findings in this chapter are based on desk
research conducted by a network of national
experts across all EU Member States ( 7).
2.1. Relevant EU provisions,
policies and legislation
The EU has in the last decade increased its efforts
to tackle gender-based violence of all sorts. Nota-
bly, building on the commitments to address
gender-based violence established by the Euro-
pean Commissions Womens Charter (European
Commission, 2010) and the European Pact for
Gender Equality 20112020 (Council of the Euro-
pean Union, 2011), the Commissions gender
equality strategy 20202025 (European Commis-
sion, 2020) highlights ending gender-based vio-
lence as a key strategic goal. The strategy calls on
Member States to implement Directive 2012/29/
EU establishing minimum standards on the
rights, support and protection of victims of crime
(Victims Right s Direc tive) and other relevant EU
law protecting victims of gender-based violence.
As a major landmark, the Vic tims Rights Direc-
tive provides a definition of gender-based vio-
lence, recognises that violence often take place
in close relationships and requires special forms
of support and protection (European Parliament
and Council of the European Union, 2012). The
directive provides minimum standards for vic-
tims, including the right to specialis t support
for victims with specific needs, such as victims
of sexual violence, victims of gender-based
violence and vic tims of violence in intimate
relationships, including trauma support and coun-
selling. Although the Victims Rights Direc tive does
not specifically cover witness protection, the
Commissions guidance document (European
Commission, 2013) does encourage Member
States to organise the courtrooms so that nei-
ther victims nor witnesses have to walk in front
of either the defendant or any of the defendant s
friends or family in order to testify, as this may
increase their sense of feeling threatened or
intimidated. Furthermore, those guidelines sug-
gested that Member States establish procedures
to make a victim- or witness-contac ting suppor t
service available, to provide information and sup-
port, prepare them for the trial, or meet them
on arrival in court and wait with them to provide
moral support during the trial, if required.
As signatories of the Council of Europe Con-
vention on Preventing and Combating Violence
against Women and Domestic Violence (Istan-
bul Convention) (Council of Europe, 2011), the EU
and its Member States (8) are expected to of fer
appropriate witness-support mechanisms and
protection. Ar ticle 18(2) of the convention calls
on the signatory countries to ensure that there
are appropriate mechanisms to provide for effec-
tive cooperation between relevant agencies and
organisations in protecting and supporting vic-
tims and witnesses of all forms of violence cov-
ered by the scope of the convention (Council of
Europe, 2011). The Istanbul Convention calls for
the protection of victims, their families and wit-
nesses from intimidation, retaliation and repeat
victimisation. Particular protection and support
are envisaged for child witnesses. Free 24-hour
(24/7) telephone helplines set up st ate-wide are
expected across Member States as a form of
general suppor t ser vice (Article 24). Article 27, on
reporting, is particularly relevant for this report,
as it calls on countries to take the necessary
measures to encourage any person witness to
the commission of acts of violence covered by
the scope of this Convention or who has reason-
able grounds to believe that such an act may be
2. Overview of existing evidence from all EU Member States
European Institute for Gender Equality16
committed, or that further acts of v iolence are
to be expected, to report this to the competent
organisations or authorities (Council of Europe,
2011). Article 28 focuses on professionals report-
ing of violence and requests that Member States
take the necessary measures to ensure that the
confidentiality rules do not cons titute an obstacle
to this reporting. In 2019 all Member States either
adopted national action plans to address gen-
der-based violence or incorporated such meas-
ures into related action plans, although Women
Against Violence Europe (WAVE) states that not all
of these Member State measures are considered
sufficient to meet Istanbul Convention standards
(WAVE, 2018). The Member State national action
plans tend to cover three key areas: the training
of key players (actors); preventing and changing
violent behaviour; and support for victims (EIGE,
2012). As a key line of analysis, the present report
offers a first overview of Member State meas-
ures to encourage witness reporting, exploring
how national legislation and national action plans
support the involvement of witnes ses in official
reporting procedures.
The available evidence on repor ting of inti-
mate par tner violence at EU level suggests that
many of the most serious incidents of violence
against women are not reported to the author-
ities. A study carried out by the European Union
Agency for Fundament al Rights (FR A) (Funda-
mental Rights Agency ) gauges the full scale of
under-reporting, showing that only about 14 %
of women reported the most serious incident of
violence they had experienced since the age of
15 to police authorities, while about one quarter
to one third reported it to at least one organi-
sation offering support to vic tims (including the
police). This stud y suggests that less serious inci-
dents are even less likely to be repor ted, so the
true severity of the problem of gender-based
violence is not accounted for by of ficial reporting
(FRA, 2014).
Reporting by witnesses is equally low. Despite
the central role witnesses can play in supporting
the victim, whether by contacting the authorities
(9) EIGE denes femicide as killing of women and girls on account of their gender, perpetrated or tolerated by both private and public actors. It covers,
inter alia, the murder of a woman as a result of intimate partner violence, the torture and misogynistic slaying of women, the killing of women and
girls in the name of so-called honour and other harmful-practice-related killings, the targeted killing of women and girls in the context of armed
conict, and cases of femicide connected with gangs, organised crime, drug dealers and tracking in women and girls (see: https://eige.europa.eu/
themselves or by encouraging and/or accompa-
nying the victims to make a report, a Eurobarom-
eter survey showed that only 12 % of respondents
who knew about instances of domestic violence
whether a friend or family member, a neighbour
or a colleague at work  spoke to the police (Euro-
pean Commission, 2016). There is consequently a
need to better understand the role of witnesses
in supporting victims of intimate partner violence
and factors that affec t their involvement, includ-
ing their reporting of intimate partner violence to
the relevant authorities.
2.2. Comparative and
international evidence
on witness intervention
There is a lack of comparative or EU-level
evidence about how witnesses support
victims of intimate partner violence, including
reporting it to the authorities, a gap this
report star ts to fill by conducting research
across Member States. The existing evidence
suggests that a number of factors influence
witnesses willingness to intervene, including
demographic characteristics, social attitudes,
the context in which the crime occurs and
whether the victim knows the perpetrator.
Witnesses may be reluctant to report the
issue directly to the police or other authorities,
preferring to inter vene in other ways such as
by supporting the victim.
Intimate partner violence against women is con-
sidered one of the most prevalent forms of
violence against women (Stöckl et al., 2013).
According to FR A, about 22 % of women have
been victims of physical and/or sexual violence by
their partners since the age of 15 (FRA, 2014). Vio-
lence in intimate relationships can end in intimate
partner femicide (9); in contrast to the declining
trajectory of homicide rates in general, femicide
rates are relatively stable (Weil et al., 2018).

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