Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Data sources and collection

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Quantitative data on violence against women and girls 

For example, UNDP Albania, UNICEF and UNDP Small Arms Project supported the Albanian Institute of Statistics in conducting a national domestic violence survey in Albania. The survey report, Domestic Violence in Albania: A national population-based survey was published in March of 2009. The goal of this significant project was to establish national baseline data on domestic violence in Albania. It is the first of its kind ever done in Albania.

  • Statistical data should be obtained at regular intervals.
  • Quantitative data can also be obtained by measuring indicators of government response and program performance. This research should include measures on numbers of prosecutions, convictions, denials of prosecutions, orders for protection issued, and re-offense data.
  • Quantitative data can also be obtained by coding qualitative data into measurable units. This can help to describe and summarize large qualitative data such as hundreds of interviews. See sections on Qualitative data and Analyzing data from interviews.
  • Data should be disaggregated by sex, race, age, ethnicity, relationship between perpetrator and victim, and other relevant characteristics. Government offices should be required to compile and analyze this data. See: UN Handbook, 3.3.2.

For example, the county of Kazakhstan has created an automated databank in the Department of Public Safety of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which allows the government to obtain data on the age of the victim, the consequences of the violence, and the criminal disposition of the case, among other factors.

  • Governments should sponsor or create a baseline study on the relevant issue of violence against women and girls as a reference point for future studies.

For example, the Baseline Survey on Domestic Violence and HIV (2008) conducted by the Centre for Media Studies and Breakthrough of India anchored a three-year campaign to combat domestic violence and discrimination against women with HIV/AIDS.  The study created benchmarks on existing knowledge, attitude and practice about domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) of India, and on attitudes on inter-spousal communication, condom use and negotiation, and sources of information about these issues.

The UNFPA and the National Statistical Service of Armenia implemented a quantitative survey to collect data on gender-based violence in 2009-2010, in response to the need for official data on violence against women and girls, so that the importance of addressing the problem could be substantiated. They sought to create an official baseline for policy makers in Armenia to utilize in the formation of policies and programmes to reduce gender-based violence. Survey administrators collected representative information at the Marz, or regional level in Armenia. (There are 11 marzes in Armenia.) Using the database of addresses from the 2001 population census, field workers visited nearly 5000 households and administered questionnaires on gender-based violence. Data was coded and entered into a computerized database. A working group, consisting of Ministry officials, police, and members of civil society, led by a sociologist and gender expert, was created to analyze the data. The results are available in English

Qualitative data on violence against women and girls

Qualitative data is data that goes beyond statistics. It is data from interviews, descriptions, case studies, and observations. The United Nations Secretary-General’s in-depth study on all forms of violence against women (2006) stated “Qualitative methods are necessary to complement quantitative surveys, for example to understand the complexities and nuances of experiences from the respondent’s point of view…qualitative research findings are useful in assessing women’s needs and constraints, community needs, designing prevention campaigns, planning and evaluating interventions and engaging community actors via participatory research.” Sec. 217

Qualitative data can be obtained by a number of methods:

  • Interviews with survivors, advocates, attorneys, police, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, health professionals, and social service providers.

For example, the Ukrainian NGO Progressive Women held a focus group with survivors of domestic violence, asking them “In your view, what would be the perfect resolution of domestic violence by the state?” The NGO reported that victims had creative ideas: the emergency number should be 2 or 3 digits that are closely spaced on a telephone so that the buttons are easy to push in a stressful situation; a male and female police officer team should arrive within 15 minutes; victims should be questioned in a room away from the perpetrator; specialized courts should consider the case; penalties should include community service and a stay in a special “Center for Rehabilitation of the Offenders;” and social services should offer victim support for many months.  Importantly, victims wanted domestic violence to be classified as a criminal offense, so that responsibility for collecting evidence would be transferred from the woman to the state.

  • Participant observation, wherein a researcher sits in a group setting in order to gain firsthand knowledge, such as observing a victim support group. This is a good way to discover differences between what should happen and what actually does happen in implementation of the law.

For example, in Domestic Violence in Brazil: Examining Obstacles and Approaches to Promote Legislative Reform (Jodie, Roure, 2010), the researcher observing a focus group noted that victims felt a sense of hopelessness and lack of judicial protection because of the government’s ineffective actions in domestic violence cases. One victim asked “how she would explain to her children that it was morally wrongful to batter when there was no judicial authority to support this message.” p. 88

For example, when activists in Ukraine investigated the question of why women did not report violence to the police, they accompanied police patrols on domestic violence cases, interviewed victims, and observed trials. They observed first hand the delay that victims experience when they call the police, and that the sanction most often given was a fine, which, since it came from the family budget, worsened the financial situation of the victim. They observed that the perpetrator, detained for only 12 hours, continued to live with the victim in most cases. They observed that regular physicians did not want to do the paperwork to document injuries, and that forensic doctors may examine a women only by police request, and the procedure to obtain this request is very difficult.  From: Ukrainian NGO Progressive Women.

  • A search of court records
    See section on Monitoring court records, below.
  • Observation of court processes
    See section on Court monitoring, below.
  • Media reports
    Gender-Based Violence In Tanzania: An Assessment of Policies, Services, and Promising Interventions (Myra Betron, 2008) is an example of a qualitative monitoring report. Methods used included key informant interviews and focus group discussions. In this report, monitors found that women and girls are frequently blamed for causing or provoking gender-based violence, and that victims rarely report the violence to law enforcement, seek treatment, or visit support services. The assessment also describes gaps in Tanzanian legislation and in capacity of service providers.  Promising interventions are also noted in the report.

Sources of data on violence against women

Data may be obtained from surveys, administrative statistics, or criminal statistics:

  • Data may be obtained by a dedicated survey which asks questions only on violence against women. Dedicated surveys will result in more extensive data on violence against women but are more expensive to administer and costly to repeat regularly.
  • National statistics offices are important sources of data on violence against women. These offices may administer surveys and they may collect data from the criminal justice system.
  • Data can also be obtained from relevant administrative sources. Administrative sources include health providers, the criminal justice system, social service providers, public housing providers and others.  However, these administrative sources may pose challenges to developing a comprehensive picture for several reasons, including:
    1. They only capture data from those who report the abuse they have experienced, and the majority of women and girls do not report the abuse therefore data that exists is a gross underestimation of reality.
    2. The data is not disaggregated by gender, age, or relationship.
    3. Streamlining the data collection across the nation is challenging as is ensuring consistency in the execution of data collection.

Data should be collected according to United Nations Statistics Division, Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Combining quantitative and qualitative monitoring

When monitoring legislation on violence against women and girls, it is most effective to utilize a combination of qualitative and quantitative monitoring. Quantitative data on the number of complaints and cases of domestic violence which reach the court system is more meaningful when combined with qualitative data such as interviews with advocates or survivors who have had experience with barriers to court access which survivors experience. Utilizing both methods of research allows a researcher to identify inconsistencies and truths which may not be immediately evident when only one type of data is employed. 

This type of monitoring requires a “situation analysis” which describes multiple factors around the issue of violence, including: specifics of the law; interviewees’ reports of experiences of victims of violence; and the government response to the violence. The report should evaluate the adequacy of the government response in attaining victim safety and offender accountability, and make recommendations to all stakeholders.

See: World Health Organization and Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), Researching Violence Against Women:  A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists (2005), Chapter Three.

For example, the Baseline Survey on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Rwanda (UNIFEM, 2008) combined quantitative data on sexual and physical violence with qualitative data that examined the effects on survivors and evaluated stakeholder actions to address and prevent gender-based violence.


CASE STUDY: Human Rights Watch Report on the Handling of Sexual Assault Cases in Washington D.C.

In January 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report which indicated a systemic problem in the way sexual assault cases are handled in Washington D.C. by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Human Rights Watch compiled information gathered from interviews, case files, and policy documents in order to determine how the MPD conducts sexual assault investigations in comparison with other major cities. Then, Human Rights Watch analyzed the research in order to determine how the MPD’s practices and policies regarding sexual assault cases affected victims.

Washington D.C. was chosen as the study’s focal point because the city reports an unusually low number of sexual assaults to the FBI, and the MPD has a particularly high “clearing-rate” for sexual assault cases, especially in relation to other similarly sized cities.  Moreover, in 2008, the MPD was sued for inappropriate handling of a sexual assault case. Human Rights Watch hypothesized that these combined factors indicated an overarching problem in the way sexual assault investigations were conducted—a theory which was confirmed through analysis of the information gathered during this study.

To complete this report, Human Rights Watch conducted over 150 phone and in-person interviews of sexual assault survivors, current and former police chiefs and commissioners, heads or former heads of sex crimes units, forensic nurses, national experts on police responses to sexual violence, detectives, police officers, doctors who work with sexual assault victims, university staff who work with sexual assault victims on campuses, government officials, counselors, journalists, staff of community organizations who work with sexual assault victims, and victim advocates. For protective purposes, the names and identifying information of sexual assault survivors were redacted, and each woman specifically referred to in the report was assigned a pseudonym. The interviews were conducted in both Washington D.C. and other major cities, for comparative purposes, and the information gathered was used to create a picture of the process a victim goes through when reporting a sexual assault to the police. In order to maintain a narrow focus for the study, Human Rights Watch only interviewed D.C. victims who had sought a forensic exam through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at Washington Hospital Center—the designated hospital for the care of adult victims of sexual assault—since 2008.

In addition to the interviews, Human Rights Watch also submitted numerous document requests, pursuant to the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, and through those requests collected documents and case files from the MPD, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Police Complaints. Human Rights Watch also reviewed the deposition transcripts and discovery material from the 2008 lawsuit, academic studies on sexual assault and frequency of false-reporting, and 10 different training manuals and model policies for law enforcement investigating sexual assault cases.

Human Rights Watch communicated frequently with the MPD throughout the course of the study.  The initial findings of the study were submitted to the MPD for its review, and subsequently Human Rights Watch agreed to interview 11 people suggested by the MPD.  Further, Human Rights Watch delayed the final release of the report by several months in order to provide the MPD with enough time to submit all relevant documents for review. When the report was ready to be distributed, Human Rights Watch submitted its findings to the MPD, along with a two week time frame in which to respond.  That response is included in the report.

Through all the information gathered and analyzed, Human Rights Watch ascertained that 1) Between 2009 and 2011, 35.4% percent of cases in which victims received a forensic exam at Washington Hospital Center and reported the incident to the MPD could not be found in MPD records as documented and investigated; 2) 7% of cases coming from Washington Hospital Center were classified as “office information only,” which means they were never investigated as live cases; 3) numerous cases involving both a sexual assault and another offense (such as burglary) were never investigated as sexual assault cases; 4) numerous cases actually investigated were never reviewed by supervisors and were misclassified as “closed by arrest” when no actual arrest was made. From these findings, Human Rights Watch compiled a list of recommendations to improve sexual assault investigations, many of which were based on accountability safeguards recently implemented in Austin, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids, and Kansas City.


See: “Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia,” Human Rights Watch (2013).