According to international standards set by the Istanbul Convention, domestic violence can be defined as “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.”

Source: Council of Europe (2011). Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence

While domestic violence is a form of gender-based violence and thus disproportionately affects women and girls, anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, which can take many forms, such as: intimate-partner violence, child abuse, elderly abuse – for example, when at the care of relatives or professionals, or violence between siblings.

Domestic Violence can include several types of violent acts, such as acts of emotional, physical, sexual, and economical violence. Its definition and the type of acts understood as a form of domestic violence will vary depending on the national legislation.

Emotional abuse undermines a victim’s self-worth, confidence and independence by asserting the perpetrator’s control over them. It includes name-calling, embarrassing the victim in front of others, making threats (including to self-harm), among other acts.

Physical abuse consists of one or many actual or threatened attacks on someone’s physical safety or bodily integrity, including harming or threatening to harm pets or possessions, reckless driving with the victim, among others.

Sexual abuse includes any actual or threatened sexual contact without consent, such as unwanted touching, rape, exposure of genitals or making someone view pornography against their will, among other acts.

Financial abuse can include taking someone’s money, withdrawing access to household funds, controlling all the household spending or excluding someone from financial decisions that impact them

Read more on these different types of violence and their warning signs here.

The European Union does not have yet a common definition of domestic violence due to the lack of specific legislation on combatting domestic violence. However, the EU’s recent and first proposal for a Directive on Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence from March 2022 will aim to adopt a harmonised definition among Member States, in line with the Istanbul Convention’s.

While not all EU Member-States have adhered to the Istanbul Convention by the Council of Europe, on combatting violence against women and domestic violence, many member-states have ratified it and are bound to its obligations. Find out if your member-state has ratified the convention here. The Istanbul Convention recognises violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and puts forth a series of standards for victims’ support and strengthening the rights of victims of domestic violence.

The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, a framework of legal and policy measures for preventing violence against women and domestic violence, has been signed and ratified by a large number of EU Member States. The Convention is monitored by GREVIO – the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Several EU Member-States are also parties to the United Nation’s CEDAW Convention (1979) – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  A Committee, a body of 23 independent experts, monitors the implementation of the Convention nationally.

Both the GREVIO and the CEDAW committee issue regular reports on the fulfillment of these conventions by ratifying countries. These reports are useful to know more about how each country is implementing the rights of victims of domestic violence.

The EU does not currently have a specific legal framework designed to prevent and protect the victims of domestic violence, thus the legislation on domestic violence (including the definition of the offence, the penalties, etc) varies from one Member State to another. However, a range of legal measures targeting support and access to justice for victims, including victims of domestic violence, were adopted by the EU:

  • Directive 2012/29/EU on the rights and protection of victims of crime – sets up minimum standards related to the provision of support and protection to victims of all crimes. It includes the obligation to provide targeted and integrated support for victims with specific needs, such as victims of sexual violence, victims of gender-based violence and victims of violence in close relationships, as well as an individual assessment mechanism to assess protection measures for particularly vulnerable victims during criminal proceedings, among others;
  • Directive 2011/99/EU on the European protection order in criminal matters. Protection orders are a form of special protection measures, such as restraining orders, attempting to limit the contact between victim and perpetrator and protect the victim from further harm.
  • Regulation (EU) No 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters – ensuring that restraining or barring orders issued in one EU country are recognised in another country with a minimum of bureaucracy. Victims can move across borders of the EU without losing legal protection against the perpetrator.

Council Directive 2004/80/EC (the ‘Compensation Directive’) The Compensation Directive enables persons who have fallen victim to violent intentional crime to apply for state compensation.

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, and the signs may be particularly hard to identify as this type of violence takes place in the domestic or family unit.

The means to carry these crimes are also expanding due to the growing use of technological tools by perpetrators for controlling and monitoring their victims – for instance by accessing and monitoring the victims’ social media and emails, by connecting to devices in your home. It may feel like there is no way out from this person’s control, but victim support services, law enforcement and the criminal justice system are continuously improving assistance to victims of domestic violence, to stop harm and prevent its repetition.

It may be difficult to recognise that you are a victim of domestic violence and it can be even more difficult to protect yourself from it, as perpetrators in domestic violence may try to isolate you from other people in your life. You should firstly ask yourself whether your relationship with those around you is mutually respectful, or if you are intimidated or controlled in some way – psychologically, financially or physically?

Do you …

  • Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
  • Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behaviour?
  • Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
  • Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  • Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
  • Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
  • Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

(Source (adapted): https://ncadv.org/do-you-think-youre-being-abused)

Some of the indicators of children witnessing or experiencing domestic violence can include:

  • aggressive or angry behaviour
  • becoming withdrawn
  • getting into trouble or difficulty settling at school
  • anxiety, depression or eating disorders
  • taking drugs or excessively drinking alcohol
  • problems sleeping, including nightmares or wetting the bed.

(Source: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/domestic-abuse/)

For more information about child victimisation, please consult our webpage.

It is important to note that the impact of crime is felt differently by each person. Every reaction of victims is normal when faced with an unexpected and potentially painful experience of crime.

The impacts of crime can be physical, psychological, social and economic, among others, and can last for long after the event. In the immediate aftermath, physical effects can be an increased heart rate, heavy or shallow breathing, sweating, dry mouth, tense muscles, feeling unable to move, feeling jittery or shaky, as the body is on high alert for further threats. These immediate effects can impact the psychological state of the victim and may lead them to act irrationally, to misunderstand information, to have issues remembering the event or what is communicated to them, and even act opposite to their best interest. Depending on the type of crime and the degree of physical violence, medical assistance might be necessary, as well as psychological first aid.

On the long-term, physical effects can linger on. For example, victims can experience recurrent loss of energy, muscle pain, headaches and/or migraines, menstruation disorders, cold sensations, shivering and/or hot flashes, digestive problems and high blood pressure, even long after the crime has taken place. Psychological effects of crime can also persist, or develop, on the long-term. These effects can include anxiety, difficulty concentrating, guilt, depression, isolation, trouble while sleeping, post-traumatic stress disorder, among other reactions.

There are also important possible social consequences of victimisation, such as the abovementioned isolation and tense relationships with those surrounding the victim. Victims have to rethink their relationship with the world around them, and the reactions of their surroundings may increase their inclination to isolate themselves. For instance, surroundings may misunderstand the victim’s reactions, or even blame the victim to preserve their own world views. Economically, the consequences of crime encompass the costs of medical or psychological support, or the costs of absenteeism from work due to the previous mentioned consequences of crime.

If you recognise any warning signs of domestic violence, in order to prevent further violence and protect yourself, you should create a safety plan to include:

  • Knowing when your abuser is getting upset – identify a safe area to go to, avoiding small spaces, rooms with weapons, and rooms without exits.
  • Create a code word to let loved ones or friends know you’re in danger and have believable reasons to leave your home to avoid abuse day or night.
  • Build a support system including your family, friends, and colleagues, make and memorize a list of emergency contacts. Try your best not to allow the perpetrator to completely isolate you from others.
  • Consider reporting the crime to the police. They can help you obtain a restraining order, or other protection orders to prevent the abuser from contacting you.
  • Consider the possibility of moving to a domestic violence shelter, with the help of victim support services. There are also specific shelters for LGBTIQ people, for example, who may shelter victims of domestic violence from queerphobic family members or domestic violence in non-heterossexual intimate relationships. Consult your local victim support services to know where these shelters are located.

An important way to prevent and tackle domestic violence is to act when we see someone we believe is being a victim of domestic violence, creating resilient communities who strongly oppose any case of domestic violence. Even if you yourself are not the victim, you can identify the signs of violence, either in victims or perpetrators, and act on it.

If you notice any of the warning signs mentioned, or even physical bruises or recurring injuries in someone you know, they may be victims of domestic violence. You should first try to talk with this person, following certain guidelines:

  • Listen without judging
  • Respect the victim’s decisions. It may be difficult to leave an abuser, and it may not be an immediate result of your conversation.
  • In some countries, it is possible to report the crime of domestic violence even if you are not the victim yourself. However, avoid reporting the crime to the police without the victim’s permission. Try to show her the benefits of reporting instead and get her to agree with reporting.
  • Accompany the victim to the police station to report the crime. Communicate with victim support services, who can help you through this process.
  • Help the victim establish a safety plan, both for immediate safety and for leaving the abusive relationship, respecting their pace and wishes.
  • Find an adequate support service for victims of domestic violence in your area, so you can inform the victim of its existence. Any research you can do on local support is a great help.
  • If you witness an act of violence, call the police so they can act immediately.

Here you can find some harmful, and some helpful responses to a domestic violence victim.

Here you can find more resources, including on how to care for yourself if you are supporting a victim.

Many victims of domestic violence may be afraid of reprisals from the abuser if they report the crime. Whether you decide to report the crime or not, victim support services can help you navigate the justice system.

You can contact the police either by phone or in person. If you are being attacked or in immediate danger, you should use the emergency number, otherwise use the non-emergency number to file your complaint. If you decide not to report the crime immediately, you can do so later. The exact period of time after the crime that you can still report it will depend on the national legislation, but victim support services should support you no matter how much time has passed since the crime took place. Contact your local Victim Support organisation for assistance on any legal, psychological or social matters.

  • Date, time, place of the physical attack(s), psychological or sexual offense(s) – often in domestic violence cases the violence is repeated, and so the more instances you remember and can report, the better for the investigation.
  • Who carried out the violence and what is your relationship with them
  • What happened during the attack
  • Were you injured, and if so did you go to the hospital or see a doctor
  • Were there any witnesses, and if so who were they
  • What your immediate protection needs are, concerning your children, housing situation, healthcare, financial aspects, and others

You will be given a crime report number and a police investigator will be allocated your complaint. The officer will handle the progress of your file up to and including the trial stage, if your abuser is apprehended and brought to justice. You will be expected to provide statements detailing the assault and its effect on you. You will be informed of your rights as a victim and you will be told what to expect if your case is brought before a jury.  Importantly, you have the right to legal aid in all EU member states and the right to an interpreter if the trial takes place outside your own country. Victim support services can help you through the criminal justice process.

If you have been affected by domestic violence, there are a number of ways you can contact support services to get assistance or information.

  1. Get support locally. Contact your Victim Support team. They may refer you to specialised support for victims of domestic violence, such as shelters, counselling or other support organisations.
  2. Call 116 006, the telephone number for helplines for victim support. This number is available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden.
    The 116 006 helps victims of crime by informing them of their rights and how to use these, offering emotional support, while also referring victims to relevant organisations. As a single access point, it will provide information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, possibilities for compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime.
  3. Call a Gender-based violence Helpline. Here you can find a directory of helplines in the EU working on domestic violence in several Member-States.

The 116 006 helps victims of crime by informing them of their rights and how to use these, offering emotional support, while also referring victims to relevant organisations. As a single access point, it will provide information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, possibilities for compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime.