Interview: “Focusing on survivor safety and well-being is central to high-quality perpetrator work”


Sandra Jovanović Belotic, Training and Capacity Building Manager at the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators. Photo: EU 4 Gender Equality/Martin Cawston.
Sandra Jovanović Belotic, Training and Capacity Building Manager at the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators. Photo: EU 4 Gender Equality/Martin Cawston.

Sandra Jovanović Belotic is the Training and Capacity Building Manager at the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators (WWP EN), which supports member organizations in their work with perpetrators of intimate partner violence, mostly men. In this interview, she outlines some of the key findings of the recently published report Mapping Perpetrator Programmes in the Western Balkans, developed as part of the STOPP project, which addresses the patriarchal structures and inequality between men and women by creating a framework for safe and accountable perpetrator work, in a sustainable and standardized way. The project is implemented within the framework of the EU-funded programme on ending violence against women, “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.

How do perpetrator programmes work, and what are some of the key improvements in the region as a result of the work of WWP EN in the past few years?

Perpetrator programmes work by holding abusers accountable for their behaviour and addressing the underlying causes of intimate partner violence, such as abusive beliefs. Project Mirabal revealed that perpetrator programmes run in effective, gender-sensitive and safe ways result in the complete cessation of physical and sexual violence after participation in a perpetrator programme. WWP EN and its network members are showing how perpetrator programmes can be a valuable part of a holistic response to domestic violence: organizations in Albania and Serbia have produced drafts of national standards; in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina organizations have integrated standardized evaluation procedures in their work despite significant legislative and funding limitations.

How do WWP EN and other perpetrator programmes cooperate with civil society organizations that provide services for survivors of violence?

Many perpetrator programmes are run by civil society organizations (CSOs), as is the case with all WWP EN members in the region. Perpetrator programmes in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina started because local victim and survivor support organizations responded to the needs expressed by survivors. In the Western Balkans, despite a lack of adequate legal frameworks and support from their governments, CSOs have become agents of change, initiating improvements in legislation and advocating for holding perpetrators accountable.

What are the most important findings and recommendations from the report “Mapping Perpetrator Programmes in the Western Balkans” across the three areas examined in the research?

Our research has shown that the accessibility of perpetrator programmes in the region is appallingly low. Many of the programmes in the region exist on paper but do not function as they should; governments included them in legal frameworks but never dedicated the resources that would allow for effective implementation. Perpetrator programmes need to be available across the country (at a minimum in every region) and set up as specialized services with dedicated funding and resources linked to the quality of the programmes.

Furthermore, focusing on survivor safety and well-being is central to high-quality perpetrator work. Accordingly, it was worrying to see that only 21 per cent of programmes in the region conduct joint planning and decision-making with survivor support services/professionals, and only 38 per cent inform survivors about the limitations of their programme. This presents a risk to survivors’ safety and must change.

Which recommendations are already being implemented as a result of the work done so far?

Within the STOPP project, some of our local partners initiated important changes and address some gaps identified in the report. Albanian NGOs “Woman to Woman” and “Counseling Line for Men and Boys” started offering group work led by male and female co-facilitation teams. Another example of change is NGO SIT in Kosovo1. We identified a lack of trained professionals in their organization and trained 12 new perpetrator programme facilitators, after which the NGO began implementing risk assessments and survivor contact and support in their practice. They also appointed a survivor support professional within their programme to bring survivors' perspectives into the work.

Among the recommendations that are not yet being addressed, which do you consider the most pressing, and what strategy might be effective in implementing them?

The STOPP project mapping report provides concrete and practical recommendations for improving the work of perpetrator programmes at the regional level, and in each of the countries. Out of these, I would like to highlight that governments need to take a more active role in ensuring that safe and accountable perpetrator programmes exist, as currently, there is no dedicated state funding for perpetrator programmes in any country of the region. Governments need to shift their perspective on perpetrator programmes from behavioural change to centring survivors, planning them as specialized services that are set up sustainably with dedicated funding and specialized staff, and ensuring that services are available at least in every region in the country. Additionally, governments must set up and coordinate quality assurance for perpetrator work, such as adopting and implementing national standards aligned with the Istanbul Convention. It is encouraging to see that countries in the Western Balkans intensively improving their response to violence against women. However, in perpetrator work, there is still a lot of work to do to have high-quality and safe perpetrator programmes throughout the region. This is part of our accountability toward survivors and for keeping them safe.

1 For the European Union, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For UN Women, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).