Domestic violence is punishable by law. All victims of domestic violence are fundamentally entitled to specific rights. Which support services are available for women affected by violence and their children? What is the legal basis of domestic violence and what rights do those affected by violence have?
The victim counselling centres and women’s shelters are specialist support centres that help people affected by violence, particularly women and children, assert their rights. If necessary, a lawyer or other counselling centre will be provided.
If you or somebody close to you is experiencing domestic violence, confidential counselling services are available free of charge.
Domestic violence is punishable by law
Many acts of violence in the domestic sphere are prohibited by the Swiss Criminal Code (StGB) and are punishable by criminal law.
A distinction is made between official criminal offences and alleged criminal offences.
Official criminal offences are prosecuted ex officio as soon as a criminal investigation authority (such as the police or public prosecutor’s office) becomes aware of them. Anybody can report these offences to the police or public prosecutor’s office until the statute of limitations has expired. In the case of alleged criminal offences, the person concerned must file a criminal complaint personally and within three months of becoming aware of the offence.
Criminal offences subject to public prosecution include:
- Murder (Art. 111–113 StGB)
- Serious bodily harm (Art. 122 StGB)
- Common bodily harm with a weapon, poison or a dangerous object (Art. 123 Abs. 2 StGB)
- Coercion (Art. 181 StGB)
- Forced marriage, forced registered partnership (Art. 181a StGB)
- Sexual acts with children (Art. 187 StGB)
- Indecent assault and rape (Art. 189 und 190 StGB)
- Neglect of duty of care or upbringing (Art. 219 StGB)
Some acts of violence are prosecuted ex officio only if they occur between spouses, registered partners or life partners with joint households for an indefinite period of time.
- Common bodily harm (Art. 123 StGB)
- Repeated acts of aggression, such as slapping, hair pulling, grabbing a person’s arm and using force to hold them back (Art. 126 StGB)
- Threatening behaviour (Art. 180 StGB)
These acts are punishable up to one year after dissolution of the marriage/partnership or separation.
The first two acts of violence in the list are official criminal offences, meaning that they are prosecuted ex officio if they are committed against a child in the perpetrator’s care. In all other cases, these offences are prosecuted only when charges are filed.
Criminal offences prosecuted when charges are filed by the victim also include:
Laws that protect victims of domestic violence
Several laws can be used to protect victims of domestic violence, each with a different purpose. The list below is not exhaustive.
With the entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) on 1 April 2018, Switzerland made a commitment at the international level to implement far-reaching measures in the area of violence prevention, victim protection and criminal prosecution aimed to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The convention is binding under international law. It recognises violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women that is an expression of the historically unequal power relationship between women and men.
At the national level, the Federal Act on Assistance to Victims of Criminal Offences (Victim Support Act, VSA) has been in place since 1993. The Swiss Civil Code (CO) is also significant in the provision of support and long-term protection of victims at the national level.
The VSA helps people in Switzerland whose physical, mental or sexual integrity has been directly affected by a crime. People close to the victim, specifically children, are also entitled to victim support services. The VSA forms the legal basis for the following services:
- free counselling at a victim advice centre
- financial aid, including costs covered for a stay in a women’s shelter, initial medical treatment, psychotherapy, initial clarifications by a lawyer
- information and support in criminal proceedings against the perpetrator
Victims of domestic violence have a fundamental right to protection and appropriate professional medical, psychological, social, material and legal support. The cantonal victim counselling centres are responsible for providing this and can also organise shelter if needed. Responsibility for providing shelter lies with the women’s shelters and other centres that provide refuge from violence and offer comprehensive counselling services and support on site.
In order to access the support services offered by a victim counselling centre or women’s shelter hinges, a crime must have been committed relevant within the meaning of the VSA. However, a criminal complaint is not necessary.
The CO contains several relevant legal provisions on the subject of domestic violence, including measures ordered to protect victims of violence, threats or stalking, such as a ban on approaching, a ban on contact and/or removal from the marital home. The person concerned must submit an application to the competent civil court, either personally or through a lawyer. The measures do not require that the victim is married to or in a registered partnership with the violent person.
The CO also governs the separation of couples who are married or in a registered partnership, such as allocation of the marital home and household goods, financing of maintenance, rules relating to minor children, etc. These arrangements are regulated at the request of one or both parties within the scope of a marriage protection procedure. In the case of registered partnerships, the same rules apply via the Federal Act on the Registered Partnership between Same Sex Couples (Same Sex Partnership Act, SSPA).
Furthermore, the CO also contains child protection measures that are applied in the event of domestic violence against children.
The purpose of the Swiss Criminal Code (StGB) is to prosecute criminal acts and convict the persons who commit the violent acts. Although the StGB does not define domestic violence as a separate criminal offence, it contains a list of criminal offences that fall under the category of domestic violence. Click here for information about criminal offences assigned to domestic violence.
The Swiss Federal Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) contains several provisions that offer protection to victims of domestic violence in the event of criminal proceedings and additionally contain special provisions for victims under the age of 18.
The Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA) contains legal provisions to protect foreign victims of domestic violence in the event of a separation. The existence of domestic violence can constitute an important personal reason for an independent residence permit to be issued and extended; i.e. a permit independent of the victim’s partner.
Additionally, several laws at cantonal level allow violence protection measures to be issued; for example, the perpetrator’s removal by police from the marital residence.
Click here for additional information about the legal provisions relating to domestic violence.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes. The Swiss Civil Code stipulates that in the event of domestic violence you have the right and obligation to move your children to a safe place and to separate them temporarily from the other parent.
Yes, in the event of domestic violence you have the right to leave the shared household (for as long as necessary) and to take yourself and your children to safety. This is explicitly stated in Art. 175 of the Civil Code.
Reporting a criminal offence to the police or the public prosecutor's office can help to protect you. In this way, criminal proceedings can be opened and, if necessary, protective measures can be ordered. The staff of a women's shelter or a victim counselling centre can give you detailed information on criminal proceedings, support you in your decision as to whether criminal proceedings make sense in your case and, if necessary, accompany you during the criminal proceedings.
Criminal proceedings are primarily about finding out whether a criminal offence has been committed and - depending on the outcome - punishing or acquitting the accused person. Civil proceedings may make more sense under certain circumstances in order to increase the safety and protection of the person concerned.
In order to be able to make use of the support of a women's shelter or a victim counselling centre, it is not necessary to file a criminal complaint.