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Focus on the perpetrators of violence

Gender-related violence is a widespread and persistent problem in the Nordic countries. An international conference that puts the focus on the perpetrators opens today. What are the best methods to change the behaviour of the perpetrators and thereby end the violence?

Finlands ordförandeskap 2016

The conference, titled Confronting Gendered Violence: Focus on Perpetrators, held in Helsinki at the House of the Estates, gathers Nordic researchers and experts in the field. The ambition with the event is to generate knowledge and explore ways to stop the spiral of violence.

‘So far, the debate has largely focused on the survivors. But it is important to also bring attention to the perpetrators, since they are central in any attempt to end the violence. There is a lot going on in this field of expertise at the moment,’ says Kristín Pálsdóttir.

Pálsdóttir serves as contact person for the Nordic fund project within which the conference is arranged by the participating organisations in collaboration with the Finish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The need for a discussion focusing on the perpetrators has been voiced repeatedly. Gender-related violence is one of the focus areas both in the Nordic gender-equality ministers’ present co-operation programme and in connection with the Finnish Presidency. The conference is a collaboration between organisations, exports, researchers, public officials and policymakers. Kristín Pálsdóttir says that the conference has attracted a lot of attention, not only in but also outside the Nordic region.

Kristín Pálsdóttir. Photo: private
 Kristín Pálsdóttir. Photo: Dagur Gunnarsson

‘People from Nepal, Pakistan, Greece and Palestine have contacted us about attending the conference. This shows that there’s a strong and widespread desire for knowledge in this area,’ she says.

According to Kristín Pálsdóttir, the intention with the 3-day conference is to enable various actors to meet and discuss how the issue is handled in the different Nordic countries. What treatments and solutions are available? What does the research say? Another objective is to create a Nordic network.
‘We are hoping that such a network can help develop the practices used in the Nordic region. It’s an important step in the work to solve the problem,’ she says.

Young perpetrators fell between the cracks

Kristín Pálsdóttir works at the University of Iceland’s Institute for Gender, Equality and Difference. She got the idea for the project when the staff at the Institute evaluated a pilot project that had been carried out in select Icelandic communities. The pilot project was based on the Istanbul Convention and aimed to combat gender-related violence through improved follow-up of reported violence and tougher sanctions for the perpetrators. When evaluating it, Kristín Pálsdóttir noticed that treatment options for the perpetrator were largely ignored.

‘Iceland offers only one type of treatment for perpetrators, and all perpetrators with children are required to undergo it. But this means that young men, without children, are neglected and don’t receive any treatment at all.’

New report maps the situation in the Nordic region

A new report shedding light on the situation in the Nordic countries will be presented at the conference. The report was ordered by the Finnish Presidency aiming to map out the different models used in the Nordic countries (including the autonomous regions of Åland Islands, Greenland and Faroe Islands) to help the perpetrators of intimate partner violence to break the cycle of violence.

Berta Vall. Photo: private
 Berta Vall. Photo: private

The questions concern everything from which treatments perpetrators are offered to challenges and results. Berta Vall, researcher at the University of Jyväskylä’s Department of Psychology in Finland, is in the process of adding the final touches to the report. She says that the results show that the access to treatment options varies both across countries and between urban and rural areas.

“Most treatment options are offered in the larger cities. This means that it is more difficult for perpetrators outside the cities to get help. One exception is Sweden, where treatments are offered in the countryside as well.”

“Also long-term funding is one of the main challenges that the service providers in Nordic Countries are faced with, which might provoke difficulties on long-term planning.”

Norway first European country to offer treatment

According to Berta Vall, most treatments available today are voluntary. They are largely based on the model developed by the Norwegian NGO Alternative to Violence (ATV), a professional research and treatment centre against partner violence. Founded in 1987, ATV was a European pioneer in offering perpetrators of partner violence psychological treatment.

‘The purpose of these treatments is to stop the violence by recognizing the gender aspect of Intimate Partner Violence and by helping perpetrators acquiring responsibility and increasing empathy for the victim. The treatments consist mainly of one-on-one and group counselling’, says Berta Vall.

One thing that is characteristic of the Nordic countries is that several service providers have a gender perspective in their treatments as stated in the Istanbul Convention. They raise up the gender aspects that are behind the Intimate Partner Violence.
‘This is unusual in a European context. The Nordic countries definitely stand out,’ says Berta Vall.

Demands in the Istanbul Convention

Gender-based violence is one of the prioritised areas within the 4-year framework of the Nordic gender equality co-operation. Päivi Yli-Pietilä works for the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Social and is a member of the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Gender Equality.

‘Gender-based violence is a problem in all Nordic countries that we still have not solved – despite the fact that the Nordic countries always do very well in international comparisons of gender equality in society,’ she says.

The Istanbul Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011 and includes demands for measures to deal with perpetrators.

‘Most discussions have concerned only the victims. We need both perspectives and are very happy to see that Norway (the next country to hold the Presidency) will continue the work to implement the Istanbul Convention in the Nordic co-operation,’ says Päivi Yli-Pietilä.

Updated 14 March 2023