Research - 26.10.2023 - 09:10 

HSG criminal lawyer researches the number of unreported cases of domestic violence

Domestic violence has been on the rise for years. In order to better understand the phenomenon, researchers from HSG and the ZHAW have now also surveyed the number of unreported cases of this and other forms of violence. The study shows, among other things: Around one fifth of the Swiss population is affected by intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.
Man beating up his wife illustrating domestic violence

According to police crime statistics, domestic violence in Switzerland has increased by an average of 0.8 percent annually since 2009. "These statistics represent the cases that have been recorded by the authorities. In the case of domestic violence, however, we can assume that there are a large number of unrecorded cases," says Nora Markwalder, HSG professor of criminal law, criminal procedure and criminology. Together with Dirk Baier and Lorenz Biberstein from the ZHAW Institute for Delin-quency and Crime Prevention, she conducted the "Crime Survey 2022". This representative study ascertains which crimes the respondents have been victims of. The authors have now presented in-depth analyses on the topics of domestic violence, violence in partnerships, cybercrime and hate crime.

The Crime Survey, for which 15,519 people in Switzerland were interviewed, illuminates the so-called "dark field" as a victim survey - i.e. crimes that are not prosecuted and recorded by the police. "It thus provides information on the actual frequency and temporal development of individual of-fences. This provides Swiss politicians and authorities with information that complements police crime statistics," says Markwalder. The present survey is the most detailed for Switzerland to date. It was commissioned by the Conference of Cantonal Police Commanders of Switzerland (KKPKS) and also measures the confidence of the population in the work of the police and emergency services. 

Broad sections of the population affected by domestic violence

The additional studies on domestic violence and violence in partnerships were commissioned by the Federal Office for Gender Equality. "The problem area of domestic violence and violence against women in general has recently received increased attention in politics and society," it says in the introduction. One reason for this is that Switzerland acceded to the Istanbul Convention in 2018. With this convention, it commits itself to combating domestic violence and violence against women.
Regarding the key results, Markwalder says: "A decline in violent crimes can be observed in the area of partner violence. This is in contrast to the official crime statistics." Markwalder suspects that due to the increased attention, on the one hand the police are more involved in the prosecution of domes-tic violence. On the other hand, there is a growing awareness of the issue among the population.

"What surprised me in our evaluations was that 22 per cent of all people have been affected by some form of violence in a relationship at least once in their lives. These are broad circles of the popula-tion," says Markwalder. The researchers surveyed not only physical violence, but also psychological, social and economic forms of violence. Either way, the effects are enormous: violence in partnerships is estimated to cost Switzerland between 164 and 287 million a year due to various health and social consequences. 

Stalking is widespread, women are more often victims

Markwalder also highlights the relatively high incidence of stalking in domestic violence: around two percent of the Swiss population has been affected by it in the last five years - significantly more than, for example, the victim figures concerning sexual offences, assault or threats. "The constant accessibility via digital means of communication makes this kind of violence relatively easy for the perpetrator."

Overall, the figures of the Crime Survey 2022 also confirm the finding of official statistics that wom-en are significantly more often affected by domestic violence than men. Domestic violence also pri-marily takes place between former or current partners. With the exception of stalking, where women are more often stalked by men and men are more often stalked by women, both genders more often report men as perpetrators. Central risk factors for domestic violence are alcohol and drugs: In as-saults and bodily injuries, a connection with these substances was reported in more than 40 percent of the cases.
What kind of prevention would be required in the case of domestic violence? "We are not making any recommendations in this study. Our aim is to provide data on the current state of affairs. Measures are a matter for society and politics, which can be guided by these figures, among others," says Markwalder. Prevention is difficult, however, because the authorities can do little to change the basic conditions in a domestic violence situation: Victims and perpetrators are always close to each other socially and often also spatially. "Many victims also remain silent or later withdraw their complaints because they are dependent on the perpetrator. The Crime Survey shows that the reporting rate for domestic violence is rather low: for example, 28.9 per cent of cases of assault and battery are report-ed, and 10.5 per cent of cases of sexual violence.  

According to Markwalder, the next crime survey will be conducted in three to five years. She as-sumes that cybercrime will continue to be in focus. "It may well be that new topics will occupy us then. Crime as a social phenomenon is very dynamic. "

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