Recourses available to victims of domestic violence [POL31460.E]

The 1998 report Violence Against Women by the Warsaw-based Women's Rights Centre has been forwarded to the Regional Documentation Centres and is also available on the Internet at It contains statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence and its perpetrators and victims; information on laws related to domestic violence, including the definition of "abuse," and how they are carried out in practice; and statistics on convictions. The report also has information about the prevalence of rape and related legislation, as well as prostitution, trafficking in women, sexual harassment, and the organization's work related to violence against women.

In 1995, there was a 33 per cent rise in the number of domestic abuse cases reported in Poland, and in 1998 the Women's Rights Centre indicated that the numbers had continued to rise (New York Times 8 May 1998). According to the Warsaw Voice, in 1996, police responded to over 1 million cases related to domestic violence and 10,000 of those were brought to court (16 Nov. 1997). Other sources state that 15,412 people went to court for domestic violence cases that year, 98 per cent of them men, and 12,087 of them received sentences (Council of Europe 27 Nov. 1998; Women's Rights Centre 1998, Section II). According to a report submitted by the Polish government to the United Nations, in 1994, 10,469 people were convicted of domestic violence, 10,265 of whom were men (UN 10 Dec. 1996). Official statistics indicate that 9 per cent of women report that they are assaulted regularly by their husbands, although women's organizations assert that the true figure is much higher (Country Reports 1998 1999, Section 5).

Domestic violence is receiving more public attention in Poland than it has in the past (New York Times 8 May 1998; Warsaw Voice 25 Jan. 1998). November 1997 was declared Stop Domestic Violence Month and a publicity campaign was held to raise awareness about domestic violence (ibid.; ibid. 16 Nov. 1997; New York Times 8 May 1998). The campaign did not result in any legislative or policy reforms (Nowakowska Sept. 1998).

Women's groups have tried to sensitize police forces to violence against women, and encouraged women to speak out about their experiences (New York Times 8 May 1998; Women's Rights Centre 1998, Section III). The Women's Rights Centre ran seminars for police officers on domestic violence in spring 1998 and plans to provide similar training for prosecutors and judges in the future (ibid.).

The Warsaw Voice stated in November 1997 that the resources available to victims of violence had improved, adding that there were "many" hotlines, a Nationwide Emergency Service for the Victims of Domestic Violence, "several dozen consultative centres and shelters for women with children" as well as support groups (16 Nov. 1997). In addition to those listed elsewhere in this Response, organizations cited in the press include the Crisis Intervention Centre in Gorzów Wielkopolski, the State Agency for Solving Alcohol Problems, which headed the November 1997 initiative, and Warsaw's Family Without Violence Centre, which runs a programme for batterers (Warsaw Voice 25 Jan. 1998).

The country's Blue Line, a help line for victims of domestic violence was set up in July 1997 and by November 1997 it had received over 9,000 calls (Warsaw Voice 16 Nov. 1997). During the November 1997 media blitz calls to the line increased 170 per cent over September 1997 (ibid. 25 Jan. 1998). Sixty-one percent of calls were from the "big cities", while ten per cent were from rural areas (ibid.). Some calls were from men (ibid.).

There are four lawyers and a part-time psychologist working at the Women's Rights Centre offering women legal advice and counselling (New York Times 8 May 1998; Women's Rights Centre 1998). During the Stop Domestic Violence Month, over 2,000 received training in combatting domestic violence (Warsaw Voice 25 Jan. 1998). They included teachers, psychologists, welfare officers, health care workers, police and staff from prosecutors' offices (ibid.). The campaign organizer stated that while this was positive, efforts to establish a volunteer programme to utilize these skills would take a long time, as Poles are not yet accustomed to providing services for free (ibid.).

There are no battered women's shelters in Warsaw, although there are in Krakow, Lodz and Katowice (New York Times 8 May 1998; Christian Science Monitor 19 Aug. 1998). Concerns have been raised that the strict rules in some of these shelters preclude women from using their services (ibid.; New York Times 8 May 1998). There can be restrictions on the catchment area or on the amount of notice required before a woman can enter the shelter, while some can require women to re-establish contact with their spouses (Christian Science Monitor 19 Aug. 1998).

Poland has established an Ombudsman's office, although the incumbent, Adam Zielinski stated at the submission of his annual report in late 1998, that domestic violence cases were only sporadically reported to his office (PAP 10 Dec. 1998).

Sources cite several reasons why women might not attempt to use the services that are available. For example, women's economic dependence on their husbands can prevent them from seeking redress (New York Times 8 May 1998). In the countryside in particular, social pressure can add a further impediment to speaking openly about one's abusive partner (ibid.). According to the Warsaw Voice, individuals do not pursue cases through fear of further violence and a lack of faith in the justice system (16 Nov. 1997).

Some sources state that prosecutors and police are not sympathetic to domestic violence cases and activists claim that prosecutors discourage women from pursuing cases, by requiring inordinate amounts of documentation, for example (Warsaw Voice 16 Nov. 1997; Country Reports 1998 1999, Section 5; Women's Rights Centre date, Section III). The process can also be very lengthy and the crimes not generally treated as seriously as other criminal cases (ibid.). Police and prosecutors are not sufficiently trained in this field, according to the Women's Rights Centre (ibid.).

Urszula Nowakowska of the Women's Rights Centre indicated that the government has begun downplaying the prevalence of violence against women (Sept. 1998). The new conservative government suspended a UNDP programme to establish ten centres that would offer training to lawyers and psychologists who deal with domestic abuse victims as well as provide public information about the issue (New York Times 8 May 1998; Christian Science Monitor 19 Aug. 1998).

Article 184 of the Penal Code, which covers all forms of domestic violence and is gender-neutral, calls for penalties of between six months and five years, with "extreme" cases liable for sentences up to ten years (New York Times 8 May 1998; UN 10 Dec. 1996; Warsaw Voice 16 Nov. 1997). Victims are not charged court fees (ibid.). Many sentences are suspended (Country Reports 1998, 1999, Section 5; Women's Rights Centre 1998, Section III).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 19 August 1998. "Support is Scarce for Abused Polish Women." (NEXIS)

Council of Europe. 27 November 1998. "Experts Call for Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence." [Internet] [Accessed 3 Mar. 1998]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998. 1999. "Poland." [Internet] [Accessed 5 Mar. 1999]

New York Times. 8 May 1998. Jane Perlez. "Dark Underside of Polish Family Life: VIolence." (NEXIS)

Nowakowska, Urszula. September 1998. "Violence Against Women: Issues and Mechanisms." [Internet] [Accessed 25 Mar. 1999]

Polish Press Agency (PAP). 10 December 1998. "Senate Accepts Ombudsman's Report." (NEXIS)

United Nations. 10 December 1996. E/CN.4/1997/Add.1. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy. Addendum: Report on the Mission of the Special Rapporteur to Poland on the Issue of Trafficking and Forced Prostitution of Women (24 May to 1 June 1996). [Internet] [Accessed 2 Mar. 1999]

Warsaw Voice. 25 January 1998. No. 4. (483). "Courage to Call." [Internet] [Accessed 3 Mar. 1999]

_____. 16 November 1997. No. 46 (473). "Reaching for the Blue Line." [Internet] [Accessed 3 Mar. 1999]

Women's Rights Centre. 1998. Violence Against Women. [Internet] [Accessed 25 Mar. 1999]