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% suffering abuse in the last 12 months, according to the largest survey of its kind on the issue, published on Wednesday.
The survey, based on interviews with 42,000 women across 28 EU member states, found extensive abuse across the continent, which typically goes unreported and undetected by the authorities.
Morten Kjaerum, director of FRA, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 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 size of the problem, 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 organisations. “Action to combat violence against women needs to come from different quarters – employers, health professionals and internet service providers.”
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%, Finland 47%, and Sweden 46% of women say they have suffered physical or sexual violence.
The UK reports the joint fifth highest incidence of physical and sexual violence (44%), whereas women in Poland report the lowest – 19%. However, campaigners to end violence against women advised caution in reporting country-wide differences, given different levels of awareness of what constitutes abuse.
Calling for a concerted international effort to combat such high levels of violence, Kjaerum writes: “With the publication of the survey and the necessary follow-up measures 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, where reporting of incidents to the authorities is low, and where violence against women is not addressed as a mainstream policy issue.”
Among the findings, to be unveiled in Brussels on Wednesday, 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% of women in relationships reporting partner abuse.
• About one third (31%) who report 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% of women reported their most serious incident of partner violence to the police, while a similar percentage (13%) reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence.
• Just over one in 10 women experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15.
Holly Dustin, director of End Violence Against Women, said the survey highlighted the urgent need for the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. “We need to ensure that women are supported and protected.”
The report’s authors also urge special preventive and awareness programmes for young women who are “particularly vulnerable to victimisation” as well as a focus on men, who “need to be positively engaged in initiations that confront how some men use violence against women”.
The report echoes a smaller study carried out last year by the World Health Organisation, which found that physical or sexual violence is a public health problem that affects more than one third of all women globally.