On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Council of Europe published a study calling for stronger preventative and victim-protection measures.
Battered women need a place where they can feel safe - and respected
“Too many women in Europe are battered and killed by their partners or former partners, simply because they are women,” Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) President Lluís Maria de Puig said in a statement issued Nov. 25, 2008 -- a day set aside to mark awareness of the violence perpetrated against women.
The Council of Europe has called for national parliaments to pass laws opposing violence against women, and has demanded more victim protection and prosecution of perpetrators.
The study comes as the Council, Europe's humanitarian watchdog, wraps up a two-year campaign aimed at informing politicians and populations about the size of the domestic violence problem.
"No one route out of violence"
Liz Kelly, who teaches on the topic of violence against women at the London Metropolitan University and was involved in the newly published study, has specific ideas about how to help. She advocates Europeans set minimum standards for dealing with the problem, and says certain conditions must be in place for any measures to succeed.
Domestic violence: widespread but little discussed
"She must have the possibility to think and talk about what has happened to her, and be able to name it as violence. Because one of the ways women cope and deal with it is by minimizing what's happening," she said
According to Kelly, there are various possibilities for combating domestic violence. Women can go to a shelter or get other professional help in order to get out of a violent living situation -- "there isn't one single route out of violence."
The drawback, though, is that help services tend to be clustered in certain high-population areas.
"The counselling and support options need to be there in relation to sexual violence," Kelly said. "If you live where there are no services, then you can't exercise your right to support, your right ot having counselling. So its framed within a rights context as well, because the council of Europe works within a human rights perspective. Our argument is that there should be an equal right of all women to support services.
Kelly argues that in favor of measures that make it easier for women to come forward and speak up.
Creating safe houses
"There we are talking about the importance of being able to have the forensic medical examination done by a female examiner; that the investigation process should be one that respects her privacy and her dignity. But also those counselling and support options need to be there in relation to sexual violence."
The European Council and the European Union have had several campaigns against domestic violence in recent years. This has led to the creation of safe houses and halfway houses for battered women. Experts estimate there is a need for one safe place for mothers and children per 10,000 inhabitants.
Kelly says Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Austria come close to reaching this goal. Sweden sets a good example in that it also has safe houses set up in rural areas. England and Scotland are considered pioneers: they have facilities that deal with all forms of sexual violence, forced marriages and female genital cutting.
Violence against women exists in all societies
Jan Kleissjen is the director of standards setting in the European Council. He says these kinds of facilities are needed all over the continent.
"Forty-five percent of women in Europe are confronted with psychological violence at some point in their life," he says. "More than 15 percent of women over 16 have had a violent relationship with a partner. The costs of these relationships are enormous."
Studies in countries like Spain and the UK have shown that domestic violence carries billions of euros in cost to society, he said.
In the Council of Europe study, Kelly sites a number of best-practices examples. In Denmark, for instance, battered women have the legal right to accommodation in their community. In Luxemburg, the state works together with nonprofit organizations to create quality standards for victim care. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the government set norms standards for safe-houses for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
The European Council doesn't have the ability to pass any laws, but Kleijssen notes that there could be ways to make improvements in the way domestic violence is handled despite this.
"Through a binding contract, or a convention, we could really make some change that would affect lawmakers at the national level," he said.