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Violence against women: an EU-wide survey

Main results

This report is based on interviews with 42,000 women across the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU). It shows that violence against women, and specifically gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook.

The survey asked women about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of intimate partner violence (‘domestic violence’), and also asked about stalking, sexual harassment, and the role played by new technologies in women’s experiences of abuse. In addition, it asked about their experiences of violence in childhood. What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities. For example, one in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, and one in 20 has been raped. Just over one in five women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner, and just over one in 10 women indicates that they have experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15 years old. Yet, as an illustration, only 14 % of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police, and 13 % reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence to the police.

There have been repeated calls over several  years from different quarters for comprehensive data on violence against women – including various Presidencies of the Council of the  EU, monitoring bodies such as the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Council of Europe. It is clear, with the publication of these results, that the time is now ripe to address violence against women on the basis of the evidence supplied by the survey for 28 countries. Future EU strategies on equality between women and men could build on the survey’s findings to address key areas of concern about women’s experiences of violence.

The survey results also provide ample support for EU Member States to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), and for the EU to explore the possibility of accession to the convention. The findings further reinforce the need to ensure implementation of existing EU measures for victims of crime, most notably through the EU Victims’ Directive. They also serve to underline the importance of targeted EU legislation and policies addressing violence against women, such as the European Protection Order and the Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters, which need to be applied in practice if they are to be effective.

Alongside responses to violence against women at the level of EU  institutions and Member States, action to combat violence against women needs to come from different quarters, including employers, health professionals and internet service providers – to name just a few. This is particularly important because many women do not report their experiences of abuse to the authorities, so that the majority of violence against women continues to be hidden and, as a result, perpetrators are not confronted. Therefore, different avenues for highlighting and combating violence against women need to be explored further. With the publication of the survey and the necessary follow-up measures by politicians and policy makers, women who have been a victim of violence and have remained silent can be encouraged to speak up. This is crucial in those countries, and among certain groups, where it is not yet widespread to openly talk about personal experiences of violence, where reporting of incidents to the authorities is low, and where violence against women is not addressed as a mainstream policy issue.

In sum, this report presents the first results from the most comprehensive survey to date at the level of the EU (and worldwide) on women’s diverse experiences of violence. It is hoped that the report’s findings – read alongside the online data explorer tool – are taken up by those women and men who can advocate and initiate change to address violence against women.

Finally, the results presented in this report were only made possible by the participation of women in the survey who gave their time to talk about very personal and difficult experiences. It was the first time many of them had spoken to anyone about their abuse. For this, the FRA would like to thank them