On violence: A new approach in Serbia with the New School

30 Oct 2014

Recent statistics reveals the alarming prevalence of violence against women in Serbia:

54 percent of women were exposed to some form of violence during their lifetime, while only 10 percent contacted services for assistance.

This violence presents a complex social problem. It is both a root cause of gender inequality as well as an extreme consequence of social norms that condone this type of discrimination.

Life in fear impedes women to fully realize their own capacities, competencies, and goals for the future.

UNDP in Serbia has been partnering with and supporting actors at the national, provincial, and local levels to ameliorate the situation.

A majority of our interventions put the women survivors in the centre, creating and supporting services that address their needs. However, a victim-focused protection system often misses the elephant in the room: the perpetrator.

It is not a mystery that not all perpetrators receive appropriate sanctions.

There remains a significant discrepancy between the number of perpetrators registered by the social protection and police system, and those who eventually receive some form of judicial sanctions or punishment.

In addition, many perpetrators get involved in new relationships and tend to repeat violent acts with their new partners.

These facts urge outside-the-box thinking alongside new services targeting those perpetrators the system has so far missed.

Since 2011, UNDP in Serbia has been testing a slightly different approach to tackle the same concern: the safety of women survivors of violence.

We’ve been supporting the introduction of the first work with perpetrators programme in Serbia.

So far, we have worked with nine social work centres, through which 101 perpetrators attended group session treatments, resulting in an estimated 80 percent non-recidivism rate. However, voluntary enrollment remained rather weak.

The institutionalization of the service is lagging.

The way in which perpetrators get enrolled in the programme deeply influences its possibility of success.

A challenge of motivation

Those enrolled on voluntary basis are twice as likely to successfully complete the process and not revert to violence. We decided to contact our regional innovation team to see if they might have some different ideas on how to get people involved.

They promptly replied to our request, pairing us with a rather unusual partner: The New School for Social Research.

Through the exchange with the New School, we became aware that the issue cannot be addressed from just one perspective. There are many interrelated factors which influence one’s behaviour and personal choices.

As such, the New School has volunteered to explore some of these issues over the current academic year with four Masters students joining us to pursue their research in this field.

These are some of the possible issues on ‘working with perpetrators’ that we will tackle together:


-       How does it affect perpetrators’ understanding of masculinity, of gender roles?

-       How does it affect perpetrators’ understanding of gender relations and family relations?

-       Measuring/evaluating the long term individual change (we will run evaluations three and six months after the therapy treatment is over)


-       Community response to working with perpetrators: Are they supportive or discouraging?

-       Local media role in motivating or stigmatizing perpetrators who enroll


-       How does the the it affect institutional response to violence against women?

-       Exploring possibilities for institutionalization of the initiative

We are immensely grateful to our regional innovation cohorts for providing the expert support – and to the New School for expressing the interest in exploring new paths with us.

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