CoE – Required and minimum levels of service provision

Cuncil of Europe (CoE) minimum standards

“Combating violence against women: minimum standards for support services”

(Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, September 2008) is a unique study that addresses minimum standards which governments and service providers should achieve/implement in order to meet their international obligation to exercise due diligence to investigate and punish acts of violence, provide protection to victims and prevent violence against women in the first place. This makes the study unique. 

Required provisions and their Minimum levels of provision


One national line covering all violence against women or one for domestic violence and one for sexual violence. The number of help lines should reflect the population size. In small countries one may be sufficient. For more densely populated states there should be at least one helpline in each region.


One family place per 10 000 of the population. (A “family place” requires a bed space for the mother and the average number of children in the country.) There should at least be one specialized shelter for victims of violence against women in every province/region. The range of provision should also accommodate women with additional needs – migrant and minority women, women with disabilities, women with mental health and/or substance misuse issues, and young women needing protection from female genital mutilation, forced and child marriage, crimes in the name of honour.

Rape crisis centres

One per 200 000 women. There should be at least one centre per region. Given that Rape Crisis Centres support women who do and do not report, those assaulted recently and in the past, there need to be more of them than Sexual Assault Centres.

Sexual assault centres

One per 400 000 women, to enable ease or reporting recent assaults and ensure high quality of forensic and medical services.

Table 5.1. p. 28 in “Combating violence against women: minimum standards for support servicese.” summarizes the minimum levels of provision. As of p.37 of the study, the provisions are discussed in more detail. 

Core minimum standards of service provision

Following principles were used to develop basic standards in service provision (p. 17 of the study):

  • Confidentiality.
  • Safety, security and respect for service users and staff, within a ‘culture of belief’/ ‘taking the side of’ the victim.
  • Accessibility – ensuring all women can access support wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Included here would be the needs of specific groups, such as migrant, young, disabled women and women living in rural areas or those who have been displaced.
  • Availability – crisis, medium-term and long-term provision are all needed, with access 24/7 where safety is immediately compromised. This provision can be met in a variety of ways, including ‘on call’ systems.
  • Support should be available free of charge.
  • Services should work within a gender analysis of violence against women, seeing it both as cause and consequence of women’s inequality.
  • Support and interventions should employ the principles of empowerment and self-determination.
  • Specialist provision should be provided by women for women.
  • The expertise of the specialist violence against women sector should be recognised, and developed through training.
  • Holistic services – working across forms of violence against women and/or support needs – are good practice. These can be delivered through ‘one-stop shop’ or multidisciplinary teams, or a ‘one-stop person’ (advocates who ensure rights are realised) approaches.
  • Inter-agency co-ordination, establishing intervention chains and referral processes and protocols.

Core minimum standards in service provision are discussed in detail in the tables on p. 38ff of the study.

What to do if standards are not met?

The study “Combating violence against women: minimum standards for support servicese” also discusses the critical aspects of the aforementioned standards. How should governments, municipalities or cities react when minimum standards are not met? Cutting funds or not providing  services at all does not seem to be a viable option. At the same time, the question arises what there is to do if governments, municipalities or cities don't have sufficient financial resources. Here, strategies in order to reach the minimum standards, such as breaking the development and improvement of services up into smaller steps, as well as making those standards and services a continuous political priority, are mentioned. For the whole discussion of all aspects read chapter “Benefits, dangers and requirements” (p. 25 and 26).

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