Tech & Rights

One in Three Women Has Experienced Violence in the European Union

62 million women in the EU experienced violence, according to major survey.

by LibertiesEU

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published in early March a comprehensive report about violence against women across the 28 member states of the European Union (EU). According to Morten Kjaerum, FRA’s director, the study shows that “violence against women, and specifically gender–based violence which disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook.” The FRA, based in Vienna, was established in 2007 to provide evidence–based advice to EU institutions.

It has been a long time that the European institutions and civil society organizations alike have been waiting for a major survey confirming what they already feared: violence against women is far too frequent everywhere in Europe. Hopefully, the study constitutes the basis for future advocacy work to advance gender equality and women’s rights. Occasionally, the issue receives global attention, such as in 2004, when the World Health Organization published a study based on 24,000 interviews in 10 countries showing that violence against women demands a public health response. Another body of the United Nations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also monitors women’s rights from around the world. This FRA report is the first of its kind on violence against women due to its EU focus, large sample, comparative perspective and legitimacy to urge EU institutions and national governments to remedy the situation. The results are based on interviews with 42,000 women who answered questions about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) and on–line violence. The study shows that one in three women in the EU has survived physical and/or sexual abuse since the age of 15. By and large, this means that 62 million women in the EU experienced violence. The situation is even more worrisome considering that usually these types of crimes happen privately and they remain unreported and undetected by the authorities.

The thorough survey shows that one in five women (18%) has experienced stalking, and every second woman (55%) has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. The abuse suffered by women extends across all aspects of life: at home, at work, in public and on the Internet. Respondents belonging to minority ethnic groups (including immigrants), transgender women, self–identified non–heterosexual women, women with disabilities, and young women are even more vulnerable to violence. While violence against women spreads all across the EU, surprisingly, countries with a good reputation for their gender equality ranked very high in the numbers of women who reported violence: 52% in Denmark, 47% in Finland and 46% in Sweden. The Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom also ranked well above the 33% average. This does not mean that countries that ranked below average, such as Poland or Croatia, are definitely less violent. In countries where more services and more support are available for survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse, such as Nordic countries, women may be more open to report these instances. It is equally important to clarify that physical and sexual violence does not end with the act of abuse itself, but triggers long–term psychological distress and loss of self–confidence, among many other consequences.

Although they serve an important purpose, reports can help very little to redress the situation. What counts is finding adequate ways to successfully eliminate violence against women and girls. As emphasized in the report, the EU still does not have a coherent legal framework to define, prevent and punish rape. Even though the Council of Europe, which all EU member states are part of, adopted the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention) in 2011, three years later only Austria, Italy and Portugal ratified the agreement. When looking at the decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights, one can easily notice that in many European countries, domestic violence is often regarded as a “private matter” rather than gross violations where law enforcement ought to occur. In addition to preventive mechanisms, too often national and local governments fail to ensure the most basic services that should be available for survivors: healthcare, shelters, safe houses, 24–hour phone services, social workers and support groups. In many countries, as the report shows, women do not have access to these services or they are not informed about their existence.

Many European organizations welcomed FRA’s long–awaited report. They call for a European comprehensive strategy and a common action plan to end violence against women, a speedy ratification of all EU member states of the Istanbul Convention, special preventive and awareness programs for young women who, according to the report, are “particularly vulnerable to victimization," as well as a strong focus on men as active agents of change.

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