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GC roundtable on the role of early-stage and preventative measures in the EU’s fight against domestic violence

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As part of the Global Counsel’s Social Impact Programme, the GC team in Brussels recently hosted a roundtable in partnership with Frontline, a Berlin-based research and advisory start-up dedicated to stopping domestic abuse as soon as possible, on how policymakers can better support early-stage and preventative domestic and gender-based violence measures. The roundtable was attended by representatives from the European Parliament, Commission and permanent representations and included opening remarks from Ambassador Reaich, New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Moldova and Romania, and Deputy Head of Mission to the European Union.  

Roundtable high-level themes 

The pace of change will be incremental. Drawing on parallels with New Zealand, it was noted the country has set up a 25-year roadmap to tackle domestic violence and measures need to be embedded into long-term strategies that surpass political cycles. Reflecting on historic measures, it was noted that criminalisation of abusers has not tackled abuse rates overall. Policymakers must consider a different approach by looking earlier in the abuse timeline at preventative measures and early-stage interventions from the community.  

The employer requirements for safe leave and flexible work arrangements create a burden of proof. Looking to the New Zealand experience, attendees noted the importance of safe leave and considered ways in which this could be applied in practice. Some countries that mandate safe leave require proof and attendees commented on the difficulty of proving abuse and the stigma around asking a doctor or frontline worker for this proof. There was discussion around whether sick or other leave could be used in the short-term and then safe leave – with a requirement for proof – could be used afterwards to prevent the immediate need for proof.  

There are lessons to learnt from how other forms of violence – e.g. terrorism and elderly abuse – are tackled by frontline workers and communities. In incidences of radicalisation, there is a focus on communities (teaching staff, medical workers, and youth groups) to spot individuals and work with them to change their mindset. There is not currently a similar cultural attitude towards misogyny and gender-based abuse in Europe. However, progress is being made in other markets – national curriculums including teaching children aged 5+ about empathy compassion, consent training for teens etc. Replicating this in the EU was well received at the table.  

Funding for preventative and perpetrator-focussed programmes does channel funding away from support for victims. Political narratives around domestic violence budgets should interpret funding choices as a binary between funding for victims versus funding for perpetrators. Perpetrator programmes can help shift the mindset of those likely to become abusers as the current model of criminalisation fails to prevent this form of abuse. Similarly, the long-term benefits of perpetrator programmes should, in theory, minimise the costs required for victim-based support. 

The directive was welcome by all groups at the table and seen as an important step forward. Colleagues around the table noted their ambitions for the directive to also go further on training and prevention, sexual harassment, disability support, sexual and reproductive health rights, and women’s specialised services. 

The roundtable concluded GC’s work with Frontline as part of a wider project to build out Frontline’s Brussels engagement and advocacy campaign. If you would like to learn more about Global Counsel’s Social Impact Programme or Frontline’s work to end gender-based and domestic violence follow the links below. 

    The views expressed in this research can be attributed to the named author(s) only.