Violence against women is “an extensive human rights abuse” across Europe with one in three women reporting some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15 and 8 percent suffering abuse in the past 12 months, according to the largest survey of its kind on the issue, published yesterday.
The survey, based on interviews with 42,000 women from 28 EU member states, found extensive abuse across the continent, which typically goes unreported and undetected by the authorities.
Morten Kjaerum, director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which was responsible for the survey, said: “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 FRA study provides ample evidence of the problem’s size, as well as suggestions on how to fix it. In a foreword to the report, Kjaerum calls for all member states to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Istanbul convention, which demands more protection for women, as well as action from private and public organizations.
“Action to combat violence against women needs to come from different quarters — employers, health professionals and Internet service providers,” Kjaerum wrote.
The report ranks countries in order depending on the responses to the survey. In three countries often praised for their gender equality, for example, high numbers of women report suffering violence since the age of 15: in Denmark 52 percent, Finland 47 percent and Sweden 46 percent of women say they have suffered physical or sexual violence.
The UK reports the joint fifth highest incidence of physical and sexual violence (44 percent), whereas women in Poland report the lowest — 19 percent.
However, campaigners to end violence against women advised caution in reporting differences between results from different nations given different levels of awareness among respondents of what constitutes abuse.
Calling for a concerted effort to combat violence, Kjaerum writes: “With the publication of the survey and the necessary follow-up by politicians, women who have been victims of violence 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.”
Among the findings, to be unveiled in Brussels today are:
‧ One in 10 women have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, while one in 20 has been raped.
‧ One in 10 women have been stalked by a previous partner.
‧ Most violence is carried out by a current or former partner, with 22 percent of women in relationships reporting partner abuse.
‧ Thirty-one percent of those who reported being raped by a partner have been repeatedly raped, which the report defines as six or more times.
Violence against women is one of the least reported crimes. Only 14 percent of women reported their most serious incident of partner violence to the police, while 13 percent reported their most serious incident of assault by a non-partner, according to the report.
Just over one in 10 women experienced some form of sexual violence perpetrated by an adult before they were 15, the report said.
The report’s authors also urge special preventive and awareness programs for young women who are “particularly vulnerable to victimization” as well as a focus on men, who “need to be positively engaged in initiations that confront how some men use violence against women.”