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

Criminal penalties and procedures

Last edited: January 07, 2011

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Legislation should state the penalties for all acts of domestic violence, including those involving low-level injuries. Legislation should not allow for payment of bride price or dowry as defenses to charges of domestic violence.


  • Legislation should provide that medical or forensic evidence is not required for domestic violence convictions.
  • Legislation should prevent the introduction of the survivor’s sexual history in both civil and criminal proceedings either during the trial or during the sentencing phase.
  • Legislation should state that a survivor, including a minor survivor, may receive a medical and forensic examination regardless of whether or not the survivor makes a report to law enforcement.
  • Legislation should not require mandatory reporting of domestic violence because it discourages victims from seeking assistance from mandated reporters such as health care and social service providers. Instead, such providers should be required to seek the informed consent of victims before making a report. In countries with mandatory reporting laws, legislation should require mandatory reporters to provide a full explanation of laws and policies to the survivor when making a report.
  • Legislation should state that the survivor, including a minor survivor, may be examined and treated by a forensic doctor or other medical practitioner without the consent of any other person.
  • Legislation should state that when the survivor is referred for medical examination, the examination should be done at the expense of the state.
  • Legislation should allow the presentation of expert testimony on domestic violence. Jurors who are exposed to relevant social and psychological research on domestic violence are more likely to understand the dynamics of domestic violence, power and control tactics, and the dynamics of victimization. Experts can assist the court in explaining such victim actions as recantation, returning to an abuser, or demonstrating ambivalence about prosecution of an abuser.
  • Legislation should provide that a court may not distinguish between the weight given to the testimony of a complainant in a domestic violence case and the weight given to the testimony of any other witnesses.

Prompt complaint

Legislation should state that no judicial officer or jury may draw an adverse inference from a delay between the act of violence and the reporting of the act of violence. The legislation should require the judicial officer to so inform the jury. 

Treatment or diversion programs for perpetrators

Pretrial diversion programs are alternatives to prosecution that seek to divert offenders with no prior offences from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision and services). Legislation should require that all sentences to alternative, treatment, or diversion programmes be used only in cases where there will be continuous monitoring of the case by justice officials and survivor organizations to ensure the survivor’s safety and the effectiveness of the sentence. Legislation should require that such alternative sentencing programmes be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. Legislation should require immediate reports to probation officers and police about recurring violence. (See: UN Handbook 3.11.6; The Toolkit to End Violence Against Women, p. 14)

For example, the Criminalization of Violence against Women Law (2007) of Costa Rica (Spanish only) includes detailed conditions on when alternative sentences may be imposed, and on the alternatives which are available. The Law of Spain (2004), Article 35, provides for suspension of certain penalties (under two years in jail) if the perpetrator participates in an intervention programme.