Karine GonnetFrom the 24th-26th of November 2010 Paris was the scene of the European seminar ‘Fight against domestic violence: comparative European practices’. This event was the second expert meeting held in the framework of the European project ‘Strengthening Transnational Approaches to Reduce Re-offending’. Head of the Cooperation Desk of the European & International Affairs Department of the French Ministry of Justice Karine Gonnet looks back.

It is not just by chance that the seminar on Domestic Violence took place in France. “In 2010 our Ministry has declared Fighting Domestic Violence to be is one of its top priorities”, explains Karine Gonnet.”As we are always looking for best practices to develop our probation system, we were keen on organizing this seminar. Moreover the seminar also was a good opportunity to show our colleagues from all over Europe how France is addressing Domestic Violence.”

The Domestic Violence legal framework in France is the result of over 25 years of development . “Our current practice is a combination of legal framework, jurisprudence and practice development which has come together via evolution and revolution. Over the years some big steps were made, such as the criminalisation of spousal rape in the nineteen eighties, or considering Domestic Violence as an aggravating circumstance in the French Penal Code in the nineteen nineties. And only a few years ago a law on the protection of the victims of domestic violence was adopted. This regulation introduced in order to tackle the problem of women failing to report Domestic Violence. When designing our legal framework for the protection of domestic violence victims, we have largely drawn upon the regulations which were in place in Spain. So that is an illustration of how we make use of best practices.”

 At the seminar much attention was given to the execution of the domestic violence interventions in France. “Many countries in Europe work with national intervention programmes, but in France, we are not accustomed to this approach. In the execution of sanctions, the guiding principle for probation services is that the interventions should address the individual needs of the offender on the hand, and fit with the possibilities of the executing local branch of the probation service on the other hand. This last element implies that the specific features of local branches influence the way how the sentence is executed. For instance, executing a sentence in a major city or in a rural area require different provisions. From that results that there is not a single, nation-wide method to execute sanctions in France. Instead our approach is very pragmatic, in which the skills of different disciplines, such as probation work, social work, psychology and psychiatry, are combined to address domestic violence. One of the goals of the seminar was mo make this clear to our international audience, and I think we have managed to do that.”

Next to the French example, presenters form England & Wales, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands and Spain outlined how domestic violence is being addressed in their countries. “Notably the Dutch example was very challenging; it is very different from the French approach”, recalls Karine Gonnet. “For me this shows that a best practice in one country is not necessarily a best practice in a another country. The specific organisational, legal and financial context of a jurisdiction make it very hard ‘to copy-paste’ best practices. Therefore I think that you shouldn’t see seminars as ‘best practice shops’, but more as places where you can get inspired by new ideas which help you to take a fresh look at your own programmes.”

The seminar on Domestic Violence is the second expert meeting in the framework of the STARR project , which tries to identify the conditions for the successful implementation of new intervention programmes.
The first expert meeting, on Agression Replacemnet Training, was held in Budapest in June 2010. The last STARR expert meeting, on Drugs& Alcohol interventions, will take place in Sofia, Bulgaria in February.

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