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Effective programmes for perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence
A comparative study and recommendations on programmes for perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence

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Guidance on perpetrator violence

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence has just (24 June 2024) published guidance for safe and effective perpetrator programmes based on new research. The report, formally titled: “A comparative study and recommendations on programmes for perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence” was written by Sandra Jovanović Belotić and Berta Vall from the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, and Kieran McCartan, University of West England, Bristol.

The study

This is an extensive piece of research which included both a literature review of 131 studies on programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual violence, self-administered questionnaires on 89 different programmes and interviews with staff from 32 programmes across Europe. The report is split into wo sections.

Domestic violence programmes

The first section analyses programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and is structed into four parts: 

  1. The legal and policy framework
  2. Programme providers
  3. The safety and well-being of victims particularly women and children 
  4. Programme design

The section concludes with a series of checklists for DV perpetrator programmes focusing on each of these four sections. The programme design checklist recommends that programmes:

  • incorporate a broad theoretical framework that emphasises an understanding of how violence can be ended at societal, institutional, community and individual levels.
  • address domestic violence as a gender-based issue, which is rooted in gender inequality, power and control. It focusses on all forms of violence, including physical violence, sexual violence and coercive control, as well as online and technology-facilitated violence.
  • understand domestic violence as a choice, which is never acceptable and the sole responsibility of the perpetrator. Support perpetrators in taking responsibility for their actions.
  • implement strategies to enhance perpetrators’ motivation to change, and respectfully challenge their strategies of denial, minimisation, justification or blaming others.
  • have measures in place to maximise programme completion rates.
  • ensure that working on gender stereotypes and masculinities is an integral part of the programme by including these topics in specific sessions or modules.
  • ensure that understanding the consequences of intimate partner violence and domestic violence on children, developing positive parental skills, and understanding a child’s development form an integral part of the programme by including the topic in specific sessions or modules.
  • ensure that the minimum duration of the programme is six months, and include group work, whenever possible.
  • be based on a culturally-sensitive approach and take measures to ensure the wide accessibility of the programme.
  • have clear in-take criteria based on the design of the programme and the resources of the provider. It should also be ensured that the intake criteria are communicated clearly to the stakeholders in charge of the referral of perpetrators.
  • implement specialised programmes for different target groups. It should be ensured that all female perpetrators undergo an assessment with a focus on their possible prior victimisation and that the facilitators of the programmes adjust their work accordingly.

Sexual violence programmes

The second section focuses on sexual violence programmes and has separate sections for perpetrators against adults (particularly women) and perpetrators against children. It has a further section on  programmes for children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour.

Like the first section, the report presents examples of promising practice before condensing learning into a series of checklists.


The comparative overview provided in this study explains the type and nature of such programmes, identifies promising practices and offers practical recommendations in the form of checklists for further use. There is a welcome focus on the priority of keeping victims safe throughout.

Thanks to Jason Leung for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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