Responsibility of the perpetrator

One of the elements of effective response by the State to domestic violence is making the perpetrators responsible for their acts. Responsibility has an important place in enforcing human rights. It also plays a large role in the rehabilitation of the victim and provides a strong message to society that any act of domestic violence shall be punished.

In addition to civil liability for their actions, the perpetrator must bear criminal responsibility because domestic violence often takes the form of criminally punishable behaviour (physical injury, sexual assault, rape, homicide etc.). Criminal responsibility implies punishment for the perpetrator. The punishment has a number of objectives – to protect public safety, to restore justice, to punish the perpetrator for the committed criminal offense, to ensure that the perpetrator as well as others refrain from committing criminal offenses in the future.

Making the perpetrator responsible is also a very crucial part in the rehabilitation process of the victim, since it serves the restoration of justice and may diminish self-blaming by the victim in this way and encourage the victim to exercise her/his rights more effectively.

According to the French Criminal Law , perpetrators in domestic violence cases may be responsible for a number of criminal offenses, starting from minor bodily injury and ending with murder. These can be misdemeanours (less serious criminal offences such as physical assault, harassment, sexual assault), or crimes (more serious offences such as murder, involuntary homicide, rape).

Also, according to French law, in the cases provided for by the Criminal Code, the penalties incurred for criminal offences (contraventions, misdemeanours and crimes) are increased when the offence is committed by the victim’s spouse or partner (civil or unregistered), even when they do not live together. This is called an aggravating circumstance, which means that for several defined offences, the fact that the perpetrator is a spouse or partner means that a more severe sanction will be applied. This applies for offences such as intentional physical or psychological violence, sexual assault, rape, moral harassment, murder etc. It does not matter whether the perpetrator and victim are still a couple, the aggravating circumstance applies even if the offence was committed by a former partner/spouse.

Making perpetrators responsible for domestic violence also demonstrates the ability of the State to enforce human rights. The failure of the State to conduct appropriate criminal proceedings and convict the perpetrator may result in a violation of human rights.

About this section

This section of the Guide will explain the kind of criminal responsibility the perpetrator may bear for the acts of domestic violence and how the victim can claim compensation in relation to criminal responsibility.  


Last updated 26/10/2023