6. Access to justice and accountability to prevent and respond to gender-based violence

In this report, “gender” and “gender-based violence” are interpretated by countries taking into account international obligations, as well as national legislation.

This chapter focuses on access to justice and accountability for GBV. It covers core elements of the Access to Justice and Accountability Pillar (Box ‎6.1) of the OECD GBV Governance Framework. Drawing on the 2022 OECD GBV Survey, it reviews OECD member countries’ efforts to enhance access to legal, justice and social services and respond to the legal needs of victims/survivors. It also examines good practices illustrating co-ordinated responses through multiple sectors, including during emergencies.

Access to justice is critically important in GBV cases, as it can provide victims/survivors with the protection, support and accountability they need to recover and heal from their experiences. It can provide protection from future harm by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, and it can also help victims/survivors obtain redress, and help raise awareness of GBV and its impact. It can also empower victims/survivors by giving them a voice in the justice system and helping them regain a sense of control over their lives, and finally, preventing impunity for perpetrators of GBV by holding them accountable for their actions. A lack of access to justice in turn can impact the social, emotional and financial outcomes of victims/survivors and their families. At the same time, the majority of victims/survivors do not report their experiences and pursue their cases, in addition to persistent justice gaps for women, especially with intersecting identities and/or from vulnerable backgrounds, leaving many victims/survivors without adequate protection and responses. As noted in the 2021 Report, victims/survivors may face repercussions such as losing custody of a child and being more likely to remain in situations of violence (OECD, 2021[1]). A lack of access can therefore be a source of disempowerment for victims/survivors who already face gender inequalities and discrimination (OECD, 2021[1]).

Employing clear strategies to facilitate access to justice for GBV victims/survivors involves identifying and removing the legal and institutional barriers to justice that they face. Indeed, evidence suggests that the majority of women victims/survivors do not report their experiences to the authorities. According to an estimation from UN Women, less than 40% of women who experience violence report their experience, and if they do, most seek help from family or friends and less than 10% of women report their experiences to the police (UN Women, 2020[2]). In addition, even if victims/survivors report their cases to the police, they are often revictimised after engaging with law enforcement and/or retraumatised by proceedings (OECD, 2020[3]), which leaves them with a lack of trust in these institutions. This points to the severe reality that the legal needs of the vast majority of victims/survivors are unmet and that they continue not to be protected by justice systems.

Barriers to justice can persist for both women and men, but women victims/survivors also face structural gender inequalities that compound their obstacles. The gender justice gap persists globally: according to the World Justice Project, only 35% of women worldwide believe that they have equal access to the justice system, compared to 44% of men (World Justice Project, 2019[4]) Victims/survivors may be financially and socially vulnerable, and they may also face stigma and social pressure not to pursue their cases and may not trust legal systems.

This is especially true for women and girls facing multiple oppressions, such as women and girls with disabilities, trans women and girls, lesbian and bisexual women and girls, migrant women and girls, Indigenous women and girls, women and girls who are visible minorities, senior women, women and girls living in remote and rural areas, and women and girls living in poverty. Such barriers include:

  • Financial barriers (e.g. the direct cost of services, fines, transportation, childcare and an inability to take time off work).

  • Structural barriers (e.g. legalese, lack of awareness, complex or convoluted judicial procedures, inadequate legal protection and a lack of translated materials or interpretation services).

  • Social barriers (e.g. gender-based and other identity-based stereotypes, stigma and shame, bias and discrimination in the justice system and other institutions, distrust of judicial and law enforcement actors, fear of reprisal and a lack of education or literacy) (OECD, 2021[1]).

Addressing these barriers requires a multifaceted approach that involves education, advocacy, policy reform and the provision of adequate resources and support services. This includes ensuring that laws and policies are in place to protect victims/survivors, raising awareness about GBV and the importance of seeking help, providing access to legal aid and other support services, and working to change cultural and social attitudes that perpetuate violence against women. In addition, addressing many barriers to access to justice requires improving victim/survivor-centred justice pathways to ensure that victims/survivors can access justice and protection in a timely, effective manner. This calls for enhancing support services such as counselling, medical care, and legal aid, strengthening collaboration and co-ordination among different actors in the justice system, including police, prosecutors, judges and service providers, and engaging communities.

Removing gender bias from the justice system is crucial to ensure that individuals are equally treated under the law. This calls for promoting gender-sensitive training for judges, lawyers and legal professionals, to help identify and address gender bias in decision making, increasing the representation of women in the legal profession to create a more diverse legal system, raising awareness of the public, as well as systematically assessing justice system policies and practices to eliminate conscious or unconscious bias.

Integrated justice pathways have the potential to create victim/survivor-centric justice systems that can simplify procedures and reduce the burdens on victims/survivors. This method creates a more holistic approach, where legal and justice services are part of a coherent system, with seamless referrals and transfers of legal problems across a service continuum, based on collaboration between legal, justice and other human service providers (OECD, 2021[5]). Countries are coming to recognise the importance of co-ordinated and integrated services in assisting victims/survivors and their role in eliminating barriers to justice. In Poland, the Justice Fund provides significant legal, psychological and financial support, as well as temporary accommodation, shelter and education. The fund aims to further reduce victims/survivors’ financial constraints by offering to cover costs of childcare, electricity, gas, water and rent. Integrated justice pathways can also help reduce revictimisation rates. Slovenia, for example, has made efforts to improve the exchange of data and files in criminal cases concerning violence among different stakeholders, with the goal of diminishing secondary victimisation (OECD, 2019[6]). See Section ‎6.3.2 for further discussion of integrated justice.

Strengthening legal literacy is a major challenge for all jurisdictions, given the complexity of laws and legal systems and, notwithstanding national education systems, limited practical opportunities to ensure the community receives adequate education and information to understand the law. The provision of legal information is one important means of addressing this challenge (OECD, 2021[5]).

One strategy to facilitate access to justice for victims/survivors of GBV is to make information on laws and rights accessible to them. A victim/survivor-centred approach to addressing GBV requires that these stakeholders be sufficiently informed about legal aid and other legal assistance mechanisms for both civil and criminal law needs. Such mechanisms should be responsive to their needs and, in the case of girls, explained by their level of maturity and understanding. Girls face particular barriers when accessing justice, including the complexity of the justice system and the difficulty for children of navigating such processes (OECD, 2021[1]).

Legal processes can also be expensive. The cost of legal representation in both criminal and civil processes constitutes a major financial barrier for victims/survivors, who may already be in vulnerable financial situations after their abuse. This can be compounded for those of socially, and economically vulnerable backgrounds. Free or cost-effective counselling and legal advice could be an important tool to combat this obstacle to justice. Legal aid can be employed for victims/survivors to help pay for legal advice and representation in court, an essential step towards accessing justice and accountability. It should not only cover the assistance in criminal cases, but also in civil matters, including divorce proceedings and children’s custody cases. It can also be a valuable tool to combat structural barriers that include the complexity of processes and low levels of legal literacy. Research shows that in at least 45 countries that have instituted this measure for victims/survivors, legal aid contributes to women’s empowerment and gender equality. Private companies (including law firms) in several countries have also taken the initiative to help victims/survivors directly, through pro bono services or legal clinics. A promising example emerged in the Netherlands, which has set up an accessible platform for legal aid for victims/survivors (Box ‎6.2).

The responses to the 2022 OECD GBV Survey revealed that member countries currently use several types of measures and formats to provide legal services and information about laws and rights to GBV victims/survivors. These formats include delivering information in person (e.g. in counselling and information centres), through free phonelines/helplines and by technological means (e.g. online). Some countries (notably Costa Rica and Estonia) reported delivering some of these measures simultaneously by directing their delivery through a designated federal entity. Greece also disseminates information using various formats and distributes them through an institutional national network (Box ‎6.3).

Given that self-guided help is not appropriate or accessible for everyone, certain OECD countries reported instituting additional measures to support access to legal information. Hungary, for example, has Court Witness Advisers – officials of the court responsible for providing witnesses summoned to a court hearing with information and counselling. A similar mechanism exists in the United Kingdom, where the Ministry of Justice funds the Court Based Witness Service (CBWS). The CBWS provides support and information to witnesses (and families and friends, when their presence is material to the ability of the witness to present evidence) attending any criminal court in England and Wales, to help them give their best evidence. Outreach support is additionally offered for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Yet gaps remain in offering information in a wide range of formats and measures that go beyond self-guided help, in a way that reaches all types of GBV victims/survivors – including immigrant and ethnic populations and in particular, those without access to technological means (e.g. users unfamiliar with digital technology, persons with mental health concerns, persons of low income, persons living in remote areas, refugees, vulnerable families, homeless, disabled persons and frail persons).

Victims/survivors should be protected against work-related discrimination and termination resulting from their experiences of GBV (OECD, 2021[1]). Some countries report introducing a range of measures that facilitate access to justice and ensure that taking legal action has no impact on victims/survivors’ employment and income. Thus, in the 2022 OECD GBV Survey, only 35% of respondent countries (8 out of 23) reported enacting measures that granted victims/survivors access to additional paid leave, with 15 countries reporting that this type of measure had not been enacted. Although not all countries specified the duration of the paid leave available, respondents’ answers varied from a few days (e.g. in Australia and Portugal), to months (e.g. in Spain). Only the Netherlands reported granting GBV victims/survivors the right to paid leave for as long as necessary. Most countries reported that the type of employees covered by these measures were primarily those working full- and part-time in the public and private sector, with only Portugal reporting any coverage of self-employed and non-employed victims.

Some of the barriers reported included identifying and understanding barriers from the survivor’s/victim’s perspective, including their particular financial barriers. A common challenge among OECD member countries is to establish clear strategies to facilitate access to justice on paid leave. Existing strategies appear to be inflexible and limited to certain employees and circumstances. Such approaches could preclude an adequate response to many victims’/survivors’ needs, as they can be simultaneously involved in divorce proceedings and/or child custody proceedings in a civil court while seeking protective orders against the perpetrator.

High levels of nonreporting of cases of GBV (see Section 3.2.4 in Chapter 3) and low conviction rates indicate that justice systems often fail to adequately respond to victims/survivors’ justice needs, and protect them from further instances of violence and enforce accountability of the perpetrators. As a first step, the identification and measurement of legal and justice needs of victims/survivors should be at the centre of design and delivery of legal and justice services, to enable effective punishment and reparation for acts of violence, as well as to prevent impunity.

Women in general have particular legal needs, and their experience of the justice system differs from men’s. Women suffer more challenges over concerns involving family, children, education and social welfare (UN Women et al., 2019[7]) and report different levels of satisfaction based on the types of legal assistance they seek (OECD, 2020[3]). Women with other intersecting vulnerabilities also have particular legal needs, including women living with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, who may have reduced legal capacity and face discrimination and further obstacles (UN Women/Women Enabled International, 2022[8]).

In general, the legal needs of victims/survivors are unique and complex. Several intersecting needs1 are often intertwined with complex emotions related to their abuse and/or perpetrator (OECD, 2020[3]). In Australia, it was found that respondents who reported experiencing intimate partner and family violence, had on average, about 20 legal problems (e.g. a wide range of family, civil and criminal law problems) in a 12-months period (Law and Justice Foundation, 2012[9]). A fundamental challenge victims/survivors face is having to address simultaneously various legal problems arising from the abuse. The legal problems of victims/survivors are compounded by problems in health, housing, finance and employment, not to mention other potential legal needs, such as: divorce proceedings, division of assets, protection orders and parental care. The Australian research showed that people who reported intimate partner violence were 16 times more likely to experience a family law problem and 3 to 6 times more likely to experience other problems – in both criminal and civil domains – including consumer, credit/debt, employment, health-related, housing and rights (Law and Justice Foundation, 2012[9]). Given the complexity of legal and justice systems across many OECD and partner countries, all these parallel processes might need to be addressed separately, with multiple lawyers, over the span of several months and even years (OECD, 2020[3]). A victim/survivor-centred and integrated approach can help victims/survivors address these complex needs and may require holistic reforms of the justice system (see Box ‎6.5 below).

Understanding the legal requirements of victims/survivors needs to rely on robust data, supported by various methods of data collection, including comprehensive needs assessments (e.g. gathering information on the type of GBV experienced by the victim/survivor, the legal remedies available, and justice barriers), intake interviews with victims/survivors to identify their needs, referrals from other support services, such as healthcare providers, shelters, social services, from legal aid organisations or victim advocacy organisations and other social services. These can also include administrative data from service providers, legal needs surveys and targeted studies.

While collecting administrative data is essential, due to nonreporting (see Section 3.2.4 in Chapter 3), this source of data should be completed by surveys on GBV prevalence and on the legal needs of victims/survivors, which can capture subjective, user-centred experiences of legal problems (OECD, 2020[3]). Legal needs surveys can also be a valuable tool for understanding the needs of women with intersecting vulnerabilities, such as women living with disabilities. One example is the forthcoming UN Women Legal Needs survey for women with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities (UN Women/Women Enabled International, 2022[8]). Targeted studies can also reveal valuable insights from victims/survivors from groups underrepresented in legal needs surveys. Their rates of reporting may be even lower than average, and they may include homeless people, prisoners, the elderly and people in remote and/or Indigenous communities (OECD, 2020[3]).

According to responses from the 2022 GBV OECD survey, countries report having used various tools to identify and measure legal needs and experiences of GBV victims/survivors (Figure ‎6.1). Of respondent countries, 62% (15 out of 24) reported using administrative data from service providers and using targeted studies. Most of these countries combined the use of targeted studies and administrative data. Yet major gaps remain in conducting legal need surveys to understand the needs of victims/survivors, with only four countries reporting having conducted this type of survey. Adopting such instruments can help create a broader understanding of the population´s interconnected legal needs and experiences relating to GBV. According to the responses to the 2022 OECD GBV Survey, key challenges countries face in accounting for the needs and experiences of victims/survivors fall into three broad categories:

  1. 1. institutional and data limitations, such as determining appropriate data sources and needs; lack of capacity among service providers to document their own administrative data consistently; lack of data from historically marginalised populations; and lack of training/awareness of officials responsible for collecting information

  2. 2. interinstitutional challenges, such as differential reporting standards and practices by institutions; and lack of inter-institutional co-ordination among institutions interacting with GBV victims/survivors regarding data collection and analysis

  3. 3. limitations related to engaging victims/survivors, often in view of a lack of information and trust on the part of victims/survivors.

One example emerged in Hungary, which reported conducting an individual needs assessment used by state victim support workers to assess the individual needs of the victim, including their legal needs. The needs assessment identifies whether the victim is familiar with criminal procedure and whether they are assisted during the criminal proceedings. This practice can be a step in the direction towards a better understanding of when and how GBV victims turn to formal or non-formal justice options.

Resolution practices include restorative justice initiatives, problem-solving justice and therapeutic justice. Most OECD countries have established problem-solving courts or have streamlined problem-solving principles in certain fields of their criminal justice (OECD, 2016[12]). Such initiatives include addressing the underlying factors of criminality, the structural problems of the justice system including jail and prison overcrowding, and the social needs and issues of communities. Such practices focus on diverse resolution methods with a holistic and restorative approach. Most of the research on problem-solving justice for GBV focuses on cases of domestic violence, and promising evidence has shown that it has the potential to reduce the number of cases that are dismissed, but also the number of reoffenders. At the same time, it can increase victims/survivors’ satisfaction with the process (Center for Justice Innovation, 2019[13]).

Problem-solving methods and courts differ in practice across types of courts and countries, but some of the key principles of problem-solving justice include:

  1. 1. Creative (in-court and out-of-court) partnerships: establishing problem-solving courts (in cases of GBV, most commonly, specialised domestic violence courts), which can also work closely with perpetrators, and include service and treatment providers.

  2. 2. A team approach: the role of the judge, of the prosecutor and of the defence lawyer evolves and adjusts to the specificities of the problem-solving approach and aims at the rehabilitation of the perpetrator, to reduce the chances of reoffences. The team (which also includes social workers and service providers) collaborates in judicial decisions.

  3. 3. Judicial interaction: the judge in a problem-solving court (e.g. domestic violence court) actively tries to build a relationship with the perpetrator and motivates them to make progress with treatment programmes.

  4. 4. Judicial monitoring: perpetrators are required to account for their behaviour on a regular basis during status hearings, and their progress is monitored.

  5. 5. Informed decision-making: in problem-solving courts (including domestic violence courts), judges often have knowledge of the perpetrator and the individual case before them (through service providers and social workers). Judges also receive education on possible underlying causes of criminal behaviour and domestic violence dynamics.

  6. 6. Tailored approach: problem-solving courts (including domestic courts) reject the “one-size-fits-all” approach to criminal cases, where judges may merely act as “case processors”. Instead, decisions in a problem-solving court try to meet the specific needs of each case and address the underlying causes of the criminal behaviour.

  7. 7. Accountability: accountability is an essential element of problem-solving justice, where judges may supervise how perpetrators are completing their treatment programme and/or community service through regular reporting, even after a verdict.

  8. 8. Focus on results: problem-solving justice measures its results by assessing the effects of case processing on victims (safety), perpetrators (recidivism) and communities. It also aims to generate positive outcomes for the justice system by saving costs, reducing prison and jail overcrowding and increasing public trust and confidence (OECD, 2016[12]).

As noted, courts may also permit the use of restorative justice in some instances to address cases of GBV. However, these measures should be offered only under particular circumstances (OECD, 2021[1]). The Istanbul Convention requires signatory states to prohibit mandatory alternative conflict resolution, including mediation and conciliation (Article 48). The explanatory report on the Convention states that victims of domestic violence could never enter this process on an equal level with the perpetrator, that the perpetrator would always be more powerful and dominant, and that the state would be responsible for avoiding the revictimisation by domestic violence. Nevertheless, most European countries do include (voluntary) forms of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice interventions in cases of domestic violence (Drost et al., 2015[14]).

In the 2022 OECD GBV survey, country responses indicate that most of the prerequisites for alternative measures involve safeguards for the victim’s safety; for example, in Mexico, authorities must advise the victim of all available options and routes before going into mediation. In Sweden, mediation (which is not applied within the traditional criminal system, but by the state or a municipality on a voluntary basis) is not an alternative but rather a complement. It is primarily used for young offenders and on a voluntary basis, and only if there is appropriate consent. In Luxembourg, mediation is not available in offences perpetrated by someone who cohabits with the victim. In Hungary, mediators are trained to recognise the signs of GBV or domestic violence in a case, and mediation is not recommended in cases where there are clear power imbalances between the parties and there is a danger of revictimisation.

In most countries, the outcome of mediation is an agreement reached by the parties (i.e. victim and offender). However, some countries go beyond this and include restorative mechanisms. In Greece, for example, a successful mediation requires that the offender pledge never to commit any crime of domestic violence in the future, attend a special counselling facility/therapeutic programme for the treatment of domestic violence, restore the consequences caused by the act as far as possible and pay reasonable financial compensation to the victims. If any of the conditions are violated within a three-year period, the case is reversed, regarding pecuniary claims. In Canada, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) administers the post-sentence Restorative Opportunities (RO) programme, which offers people who have been harmed by a crime (including GBV cases), either directly or indirectly, a chance to communicate with the offender who caused the harm. The programme (in which participation is voluntary for everyone concerned) explores opportunities to use various victim-offender mediation models that best suit the needs of the participants, as defined by the participants, with the help of a professional mediator.

Hungary reported having trained mediators to facilitate peace-making circles, but reported that in practice, it is rarely used. The Netherlands reported implementing family group conferencing, where social care and healthcare professionals work together with the criminal law system on a domestic violence report/case. None of the countries reported having community restorative boards.

As noted, OECD member countries have increasingly been using problem-solving methods and innovative restorative measures. A closely studied approach to problem-solving methods adopted by several OECD countries focuses on domestic violence and IPV cases. Domestic violence courts focus on the protection of the victim/survivor and prioritise this over the treatment and recovery of the perpetrator (OECD, 2016[12]). These measures include a range of services, including counselling, shelter and advocacy, and perpetrators are often required to participate in intervention programmes, for which they are requested to report to judges of the domestic violence court.

In addition, these domestic violence courts can provide an even more holistic approach if they are integrated: in such cases, the domestic violence court judge handles cases related to domestic violence, as well as the accompanying civil matters, including custody, visitation, civil protection orders and matrimonial matters, which also improves the access to support services. These integrated solutions are more holistic and multidisciplinary, with better access to and co-ordination of support services. They can provide more effective monitoring to increase the accountability and compliance of perpetrators and judges can make more informed decisions based on more information about the family (OECD, 2016[12]). A promising example emerged from the state of New York (United States), where both domestic violence courts and integrated domestic violence courts are available (see Box ‎6.6 below).

Interagency collaboration and judicial authority are key determinants of a successful problem-solving justice initiative, leading to positive outcomes in the justice system. More specifically, creative partnerships, a team approach and judicial interaction generate an informed decision-making process on the circumstances of the case, leading to positive victim-focused outcomes (OECD, 2016[12]).

A notable example of such partnerships are the Family Justice Centres, which provide co-located, one-stop, multidisciplinary services to victims/survivors of family violence. This integrated service (also see Chapter 5) provides holistic support to victims and can help hold perpetrators accountable. Family Justice Centres can provide comprehensive medical and legal services, counselling to victims/survivors, link them to the court system and facilitate their access not only to legal services but other services as well, including public benefits assistance, advocacy and safety planning. The first Family Justice Centre was established in the United States in 2002, and several other OECD countries, including Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland and Sweden have adopted this initiative (EUCPN, 2022[16]). Examples of Family Justice Centres and partnerships are illustrated in Box ‎6.7.

Problem-solving justice solutions to GBV have encountered various challenges in OECD countries. Scope remains to implement innovative restorative justice mechanisms, such as partnerships, family groups conferencing, peace-making circles and community restorative boards. In general, criminal justice systems are overburdened and suffer from insufficient financial and human resources (UNODC, 2021[18]). In this context, a fundamental challenge of introducing restorative justice mechanisms is a lack of dedicated funding, as well as a lack of gender-sensitive and specialised training.

Effective accountability, as one of the problem-solving methods, is particularly important in GBV cases because of the need to hold perpetrators accountable, ensure recognition for victims and deter future crimes. Accountability on GBV involves two main approaches: i) criminalising multiple forms of GBV – encompassing not only enacting GBV laws but also monitoring their functioning in the judicial system, and  ii) holding perpetrators of GBV to account. This involves prosecution and alternative dispute resolution practices, such as arbitration, conciliation, mediation and online dispute resolution. However, alternative practices should not be mandatory and should be employed only in situations where victims/survivors have consented to them (OECD, 2021[1]).

Law enforcement is inherently tied to the effectiveness of GBV laws. According to the 2022 OECD GBV Survey, only 10 out of 22 respondent member countries have conducted or commissioned evaluations on law enforcement’s performance in protecting and supporting victims/survivors in the last five years. Six countries reported they have not. Only one country reported conducting other types of evaluations, and three reported developing other types of assessments. It is noteworthy that two out of these three countries reported designing these assessments with a special focus on improving support and protection towards victims. A promising example emerged in the United Kingdom, where it is reported that His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has an assessment framework for police forces to monitor how effective and impactful the force’s service is for victims of crime.

In addition, law enforcement is the entry point to justice systems for victims/survivors. It is thus vital that the police encourage trust and that officers are sufficiently trained to interact with victims/survivors in ways that do not retraumatise them. Law enforcement actors also need to be able to do an initial risk assessment of the reported cases and identify warning signs and take the necessary steps to protect victims/survivors. More general gender-equality trainings are also called for to reduce gender-based biases towards victims/survivors (EIGE, 2019[19]). A promising practice emerged in Australia (see Box ‎6.8). Police training has been shown to have a positive effect on the number of arrests, especially in recognising “controlling and/or coercive behaviour” (Brennan et al., 2021[20]). To maximise the benefits of training in law enforcement, training should be regularly evaluated.

Given that victim/survivor protection is a key element in systems for GBV law enforcement, protective mechanisms (i.e. ancillary orders, including protective or removal orders) are a key element in laws addressing GBV. Such mechanisms should be applied with the needs and interests of the victim/survivor in mind (OECD, 2021[1]). The responses to the OECD Survey revealed a broad consensus to adopt various types of protective measures – namely restraining protection orders, emergency barring orders, electronic monitoring devices and no-contact orders. Another commonality is that the breach of a barring order is considered a criminal offence in most countries.

Some countries limit the adoption of electronic devices only to certain types of cases, typically when they are not severe or when they are combined with other protective measures. In Canada, electronic devices are not permitted for offenders serving conditional sentences, offenders who have been approved for parole and offenders who have temporary absence permits. In Costa Rica, this type of measure is implemented when the case is not a sexual offence, the aggressor is a primary offender, the penalty does not exceed six years in prison, no firearm has been used, and if it is clear that the perpetrator does not constitute a danger. Promising practices on protection measures emerged from Mexico, Norway and Slovak Republic (see Box ‎6.9).

Some OECD member countries have conducted evaluations on law enforcement’s performance in protecting and supporting victims/survivors, but most have not. OECD member countries have encountered common challenges in adding efforts to minimise the repercussions caused by protective mechanisms (i.e. orders), particularly those aimed at separation, on victims/survivors and their children.

Accountability should be accompanied by measures that aim to address the root causes of GBV. Focus is needed on prevention programming that may prevent the occurrence of GBV (also see Section 3.2.5 in Chapter 3), but problem-solving methods may have potential not only to hold perpetrators accountable, but provide them support in avoiding further offences (also see Section 4.2.2 in Chapter 4). Similarly to approaches taken by problem-solving justice, working with perpetrators can include the following elements (OECD, 2016[12]):

  • Collaboration: Actors in various jurisdictions, including the government and its agencies, the private sector and community-based organisations, should form partnerships to set up interventions. With adequate information-sharing and training, partnerships between the justice system and actors in other sectors can “keep the perpetrator in view”, with regular follow-ups and contacts with the perpetrator (ANROWS, 2020[21]).

  • A focus on the accountability of the perpetrator: While perpetrators need to be held accountable and receive appropriate punishment, a purely punitive approach is not effective in preventing further offences. A range of evidence-based responses need to be employed, including justice-related and programmatic interventions.

  • Addressing underlying issues of criminal behaviour: While GBV can be a result of broader societal problems, problem-solving justice could aim to solve individual reasons that led to the offence, including psychological reasons.

  • Including the community and the victim/survivor: Both the community and the victims/survivors should be consulted in developing problem-solving justice solutions.

Introducing measures that prevent perpetrators from reoffending is an ambitious task that aims to provide responses to structural problems and cannot always propose a solution to all factors that contribute to the offence. Professionals find it challenging to work with perpetrators, who are often unable to recognise their violent behaviour and its consequences and are not willing to challenge harmful masculinities (Procentese et al., 2020[22]).

Legal measures, including protection orders, may not be taken seriously by perpetrators, who may regard them as a “piece of paper” and refuse to recognise them as having authority. This can especially be the case if the perpetrator believes the crimes are not prosecuted on behalf of the state, but on behalf of the victim/survivor, and that they have been persecuted by “the system”. Male perpetrators may believe that justice systems are biased towards women and that judges jump to conclusions after listening to “one side of the story” (ANROWS, 2020[21]). Such perceptions encourage lower levels of compliance and accountability.

Despite the adoption of increasingly comprehensive legal and policy frameworks, supported by innovative solutions, including integrated service delivery, all countries continue to struggle with eliminating the most extreme type of GBV: femicides/feminicides. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls (WHO, 2012[23]). The term feminicides implies a failure on the part of governments and society to prevent the intentional murder of women. As noted in Chapter 1, the rates of the intentional killings of women and girls continue to be high: worldwide, 45 000 women and girls were killed in 2021 by intimate partners or other family members, (UNODC/UN Women, 2022[24]) who constitute the majority of perpetrators of this crime. Data is lacking on femicides/feminicides, and on conviction rates, since conviction statistics are rarely disaggregated by type of homicide (UNODC, 2019[25]). Research in the United Kingdom, however, found that in 2020, 60% of perpetrators were convicted of murder and 19% were convicted of manslaughter. The research also found that 53% of perpetrators were known to have a previous history of GBV (Femicide Census, 2020[26]).

Femicide/feminicide is preventable. Several risk factors may be present for an extended period of time, especially in intimate-partner relationships, which can be identified by service providers through risk assessment and management mechanisms and prevent lethal cases through timely intervention (also see Section 3.2.5 in Chapter 3). In addition to adequate risk assessment and management, increased access to justice can also provide timely protection for victims/survivors of GBV at risk of femicides/feminicides.

GBV frameworks should include actions to track femicides/feminicides to better understand how and why women face gender-related risks of death. Fatality review teams should be established to build a summary of each case, and statistical data should be gathered about both the perpetrator and the victim/survivor to better recognise warning signs and patterns (OECD, 2021[1]).

Understanding and preventing femicide/feminicide depends largely upon the existence of data deriving from detailed and reliable records that identify characteristics of the victim, the perpetrator, the relationship between them, their environment, and motivations and patterns of behaviour. This information can be gathered through official documentation (e.g. police reports, court records, other public services and publicly available medical reports), newspaper articles and statements from or interviews with people who have had relevant contacts with the victim/survivor (OECD, 2021[1]).

Existing administrative sources are often incomplete, updated infrequently and lack the contextual information to determine whether a particular homicide should be classified as a femicide. Reporting feminicide can also be stigmatising and dangerous in many contexts, as cultures of impunity often prevent proper investigations when feminicides are reported (HRDAG, 2021[27]). These challenges call for frameworks that harmonise and strengthen data collection efforts: the Statistical Framework developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and UN Women would, for example, be a valuable tool to improve data collection on femicides/feminicides (see Box ‎6.10).

The responses to the 2022 GBV OECD Survey indicated that member countries gathered information on femicides/feminicides mostly through official documentation. Most of the countries reported gathering information from police records and crime reports.

Certain countries reported collecting data on feminicide from administrative sources. An example of this emerged from Spain, where data collection on feminicide is a joint institutional effort. The Government Delegation Against Gender-Based Violence is responsible for collecting data from other institutions appointed by the Statistics National Institute as an official source of valuable data. It manages six state-wide statistical operations on GBV: GBV killings, data from the 016 call centre, data from the Atenpro phone service for victims, data from the electronic devices system, and data from the Autonomous Communities. Another example involves Costa Rica’s National Sub-commission on the Prevention of Femicide, made up of representatives from the Gender Prosecutor's Office, the Technical Secretariat for Gender of the Judiciary, the Observatory on Gender Violence, the Judicial Investigation Agency, the Sub-Process for Statistics of the Judiciary and the National Institute for Women (INAMU). The sub-commission is responsible for recording, monitoring, analysing and classifying violent deaths of women.

Other countries reported complementing official statistics with additional data from other sources. See for example, Canada in the below box (Box ‎6.11).

Data-disaggregation practices are useful to identify those crimes that could have happened based on gender considerations, and from there, move closer to a definition of feminicide that responds to the violence experienced by the population. Rather than pre-specifying a particular definition of feminicide, the disaggregation approach would allow researchers to identify cases consistent with their working definitions of feminicide (HRDAG, 2021[27]).

Answers to the OECD Survey reveal that many countries reported not having created or defined the notion of “feminicide” in their legal systems. Moreover, only 35% of respondent countries (8 out of 23 countries) reported conducting or funding projects or programmes that document and analyse femicides/feminicides.

It is noteworthy that most of the countries that reported having conducted initiatives to analyse feminicides do so within the context of domestic violence cases. Since 2016, Portugal has set up a Domestic Violence Homicide Review Team (EARHVD), which is responsible for analysing retrospectively homicides that occurred in the context of intimate partner violence and where a final court decision was rendered (which may fall within the more typical international understanding of femicide/feminicide).

Quite apart from the fact that most countries have neither defined nor incorporated the notion of feminicide in their legislation, most member countries do not collect and disaggregate data on femicide or possible feminicide. Other omissions could be rectified: estimating undocumented feminicide cases; understanding patterns in the data on feminicides; and collecting information from multiple sources that allows for robust quantitative analyses. Another common gap is evident in the implementation of strategies with clear objectives that go beyond the domain of intimate partner violence, to help analyse information on feminicides and possible feminicides.

In emergency situations, where major events disrupt the normal functioning of public institutions, victims/survivors must continue to have access to judicial systems and relevant legal services (OECD, 2021[5]). This includes increasing collaboration between organisations within and outside the justice system and making information available to GBV victims/survivors (OECD, 2021[1]).

Responses to the 2022 OECD GBV Survey indicated that all member countries had implemented some form of measures during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate access to justice for GBV victims/survivors. Those most commonly reported were information and community technology-based services (e.g. helplines, mobile applications, etc.); as well as virtual court proceedings and simplified procedures established by police, prosecutors’ offices and/or courts, for receiving and resolving complaints. Only four countries reported that they had set up accelerated police station or prosecutor office procedures for receiving and resolving complaints and integrated services in hospitals or legal aid offices (e.g. making it possible to file a complaint in the same building where the victim is provided with first aid; one-stop services for victims, and offering temporary childcare while they attended legal procedures, etc.).

  • Understanding the legal needs of victims/survivors: Countries should implement various instruments to understand the legal needs of victims/survivors, including legal needs surveys, targeted studies and service provider administrative data.

  • Legal assistance: A victim/survivor-centred approach to addressing GBV requires that these stakeholders be adequately informed about legal aid and other legal assistance mechanisms available to them for both civil and criminal law needs. States should ensure that the mechanisms are responsive to their needs and, in the case of girls, take into account their level of maturity and understanding.

  • Continuum of justice responses: States should incorporate multiple mechanisms into their GBV responses, including prosecution and alternative dispute resolution practices such as arbitration, conciliation, mediation and online dispute resolution; however, the use of alternative practices should not be mandatory and should be employed only in situations where victims/survivors have consented to them.

  • Integrated justice pathways: Countries should introduce integrated justice responses, including partnerships and interagency collaboration and implement problem-solving justice principles that can reduce the legal burden on victims/survivors and focus on accountability and addressing root causes, by working with perpetrators.

  • Protection: Protective mechanisms (i.e. ancillary orders, including protective or removal orders) should be applied bearing in mind the needs and interests of the victim/survivor.

  • Tracking and preventing femicides/feminicides: GBV frameworks should include actions to track femicides/feminicides in order to better understand how and why women face gender-related risks of death. Fatality review teams should be established to build a summary of each case, and statistical data should be gathered both about the perpetrator and about the victim/survivor, in order to recognise warning signs and patterns.

  • Access to justice in emergencies: In emergency situations that disrupt the normal functioning of public institutions, victims/survivors must continue to have access to judicial systems and relevant legal services. This includes increasing collaboration between organisations within and outside the justice system and making information available to enhance GBV victims/survivors.


[21] ANROWS (2020), Improving accountability: The role of the perpetrator intervention systems, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, https://anrowsdev.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/ANROWS-Chung-Improved_accountability-RtPP.1.pdf.

[20] Brennan, I. et al. (2021), “Policing a new domestic abuse crime: effects of force-wide training on arrests for coercive control”, Policing and Society, Vol. 31/10, pp. 1153-1167, https://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2020.1862838.

[13] Center for Justice Innovation (2019), Problem-solving courts: An evidence review, https://justiceinnovation.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2019-03/problem-solving-courts-an-evidence-review.pdf.

[14] Drost, L. et al. (2015), Restorative Justice in Cases of Domestic Violence: Best Practice Examples Between Increasing Mutual Understanding and Awareness of Specific Protection Needs, Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology & Institute of Conflict Research, Verwey-Jonker Institute, https://www.unodc.org/e4j/data/_university_uni_/restorative-justice-in-cases-of-domestic-violence--best-practice-examples-between-mutual-understanding-and-awareness-of-specific-protection-needs.html?lng=en (accessed on 13 March 2023).

[19] EIGE (2019), A guide to risk assessment and risk management of intimate-partner violence against women for police, European Institute for Gender Equality, https://eige.europa.eu/publications/guide-risk-assessment-and-risk-management-intimate-partner-violence-against-women-police.

[16] EUCPN (2022), Multidisciplinary approach of gender-based and domestic violence in Family Justice Centers, European Crime Prevention Network, https://eucpn.org/sites/default/files/document/files/Bert%20Groen.pdf.

[26] Femicide Census (2020), Femicide census 2020, https://www.femicidecensus.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/010998-2020-Femicide-Report_V2.pdf.

[17] Fondazione G.B. Guzzetti (2021), SVSeD becomes the first Family Justice Center in Italy, https://www.fondazioneguzzetti.it/svsed-diventa-il-primo-family-justice-center-in-italia/ (accessed on 13 March 2023).

[11] Government of Ireland (2021), Supporting a Victim’s Journey: A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases, https://www.gov.ie/pdf/?file=https://assets.gov.ie/94023/bb7d391d-2198-4f94-a3bf-64fdd2538bf2.pdf#page=null.

[27] HRDAG (2021), Using quantitative data to study feminicide: challenges and opportunities, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Women/SR/Femicide/2021-submissions/CSOs/human-rights-data.pdf.

[9] Law and Justice Foundation (2012), Legal Australia-Wide (LAW) Survey: Legal Need in Australia, http://www.lawfoundation.net.au/ljf/site/templates/LAW_AUS/$file/LAW_Survey_Australia.pdf.

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[15] State of New York (n.d.), New York State Domestic Violence Courts Program Fact Sheet, https://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/ofpa/domviolcrtfactsheet.htm (accessed on 13 March 2023).

[2] UN Women (2020), The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women and Girls and COVID-19, https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2020/4/infographic-ccovid19-violence-against-women-and-girls (accessed on 13 March 2023).

[7] UN Women et al. (2019), Justice for Women: High-level Group Report, https://www.justice.sdg16.plus/_files/ugd/6c192f_b931d73c685f47808922b29c241394f6.pdf.

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[24] UNODC/UN Women (2022), Gender-related killings of women and girls (femicide/feminicide), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-11/Gender-related-killings-of-women-and-girls-improving-data-to-improve-responses-to-femicide-feminicide-en.pdf.

[28] UNODC/Un Women (2022), Statistical Framework for measuring the gender-related killings of women and girls (also referred to as “femicide/feminicide”), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/UN Women, https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Statistical_framework_femicide_2022.pdf.

[23] WHO (2012), Understanding and addressing violence against women: Femicide, World Health Organization, Geneva, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/77421/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf.

[4] World Justice Project (2019), The Constraints Women Face in Accessing Justice, https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/Constraints%20Women%20Face%20in%20Accessing%20Justice.pdf.


← 1. The legal needs of victims/survivors of GBV varies based on such factors as their gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Intersectional needs of GBV victims/survivors include a need for accessible facilities for victims/survivors with disabilities, needs related to their cultural and linguistic identity, especially for victims/survivors from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds, need for support for LGBTQ+ victims/survivors, and the need for immigration services for victims/survivors who are immigrants.

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