Domestic violence and criminality – Empirical research, 2005

Research on experiences of gender-based violence among imprisoned women and men

The aim of the research project was to assess to what extent gender-based violence/domestic violence had been present in the lives of representative groups of women and men who were serving their prison sentence for some type of crime against life, and whether there was a connection between such experiences and the crime for which they had been sentenced. Furthermore, the research aimed to find out in which areas there were observable gaps which hindered the effective prevention and prosecution of gender-based violence, so as to be able to make recommendations for the improvement of policies and protocols in these areas.

The project was supported by the Secretariat of the National Crime Prevention Committee of the Ministry of Justice of Hungary in 2005.

The research was based on the hypothesis that gender-based/domestic violence had been present in the lives of a large proportion of imprisoned women and men, more specifically a large proportion of imprisoned women had become victims of intimate partner violence as adults. At the same time, from the review of relevant literature it seemed probable that in the majority of crimes against life where the victim was the female or male perpetrator’s partner, domestic violence, especially violence and abuse against women and children and occasionally against other family members, had played a significant role.

The questionnaire which served as a guideline for the individual interviews was compiled by the leaders of the research team with the help of methodology experts and based on relevant literature related to the characteristics of gender-based violence, the effects of gender-based violence on victims, and on suggested approaches to bringing such experiences to the surface for the purposes of research.  In the framework of the research project, 50 women and 49 men who had been sentenced to imprisonment for crimes against life took part in individual qualitative interviews in one women’s and two men’s penitentiary institutions. Their participation in the research was voluntary and anonymous.

Short summary of the research findings:

Among female prisoners, for whom the sample was representative, the rate of victims of gender-based violence was especially high: In their childhood, 58% of the women had directly experienced physical abuse from a parent or other relative, and a high number, 21 of them had suffered sexual abuse, some by their fathers or stepfathers. In the majority of the cases of childhood domestic violence both the daughter and the mother became victims of abuse, in 10% the daughter was a witness of her mother’s victimisation.

The experience of gender violence committed by the male partner proved to be a very common experience among the interviewed female prisoners: 86% of all interviewed women experienced ongoing emotional and/or physical abuse from one or more of their intimate partners; the majority of them also suffered sexual violence from them. However, a lot of them, 13 women had not experienced gender violence as children. More than half, 25 of these abused women committed the crime for which they were convicted against their abusive partners, most often as an act of defence in a dangerous, violent situation, which frequently endangered the children as well. In the majority of the cases, the women had informed and asked the authorities for help in connection with the abuse, however, they did not receive any effective help from them. In the majority of the cases, the court failed to take into account the gender violence that preceded the crime, which marks the lack of efficient legislation and gender-sensitive jurisdiction in the field.

Among male prisoners, altogether 54% had experienced that they or their mothers became victims of violence from a close relative, mainly the father, and in 24% of the cases, both mother and son were physically abused. The significance of these childhood experiences for their behaviour in adult relationships was quite high for men: 11 of those who had been abused as children and 8 of those who had experienced how their mother was also abused by her partner, committed  violence against their female partners as adults. Altogether, 33% of the interviewed men were violent towards their partner, several of them were continuously abusive, and in the most serious cases this ended in murder, for which 6 of the interviewees were convicted. They did not consider intimate partner violence as reciprocal even when their partners tried to defend themselves.


The research report entitled “Dorottya Rédai, Réka Sáfrány and Herta Tóth: Domestic violence and criminality: Research on the phenomenon of domestic violence among imprisoned women and men” is available in Hungarian:

Családon belüli erőszak és bűnelkövetés. A családon belüli erőszak jelenségének kutatása női és férfi fogvatartottak körében (kutatási összefoglaló, készítették: Rédai Dorottya, Sáfrány Réka és Tóth Herta)

The research project was coordinated by Réka Sáfrány.