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Representation in Malta
Press release8 March 2022Representation in Malta

Combatting violence against women and domestic violence across the EU

GBV

Violence against women and domestic violence are widespread societal problems that affect all social groups and which are highly prevalent in all EU countries. Such violence takes place in the public and private spheres as well as on online platforms. According to Eurostat, as many as 178,000 sexual crimes were recorded by the police in the EU in 2019, and over a third of these were rapes. 

When the global Covid-19 pandemic set in, we realised that there was a shadow pandemic that was spreading fast. It was the rise of violence against women that shot up to 70% on the previous – already high – incidence rate recorded, for instance, in the Flanders region in Belgium during the second week of the first lockdown. 

Every single victim is one victim too many. Yet inadequate responses to gender-based violence and domestic violence and anomalies to existing systems leave many women and girls violated, unsupported and unprotected by the judicial system, if not dead. 

It was necessary to develop new reporting tools for those victims caught in a lockdown with their abusers. Vital institutional safeguards had to be reinvented, prompting a reflection on whether the new methods of operation should become a permanent fixture of our strategies addressing violence against women and domestic violence. 

Numerous Member States set up round the clock helplines, launched awareness raising campaigns in pharmacies, increased shelter capacity and declared support services as essential, thus ensuring their continuous operation despite pandemic-related restrictions. While these were positive responses, we must step up our prevention programmes further and improve services, setting minimum benchmarks for all of the EU territory. Concurrently, online violence against women spread exponentially. A recent Plan International survey of 14,000 girls across the world found that as many as 58% experienced online harassment and abuse. Often, this happens without any consequence for the perpetrators. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention is the most effective international legal instrument in existence. Over the last decade, it triggered important national reforms. Nonetheless, six EU Member States have not ratified the Convention yet. While the European Commission remains committed to ratify the Convention, the lack of accord from the Council to this prospect prompted us to develop our own legislative proposal to address violence against women and domestic violence. 

Today, on International Women’s Day, the European Commission is adopting a legislative proposal that introduces common minimum standards for all Member States on prevention, protection, support for victims, access to justice, and cooperation and coordination of services. 

We are proposing the criminalisation of violence against women, including online violence such as non-consensual sharing of intimate images, videos or audio files, or threats to do so; and rape which includes all non-consensual body penetration. 

Once adopted, this new law would demand dedicated helplines for victims of violence. This will be strengthened further through a harmonised EU-wide number – 116 016 – that will direct victims to 

the right services and authorities wherever they are in the EU. We want to make sure that no victim has to deal with gender-based violence alone. 

I am convinced that with today’s proposal we can make a difference for women EU-wide. Of course, this requires the European Parliament and Council’s accord. I hope that the recent spike in gender-based violence guides Member States to reach common ground promptly, so as to protect women and girls from violent sexist behaviour that violates our dignity and rights. 

Violence against women and domestic violence are widespread societal problems that affect all social groups and which are highly prevalent in all EU countries. Such violence takes place in the public and private spheres as well as on online platforms. According to Eurostat, as many as 178,000 sexual crimes were recorded by the police in the EU in 2019, and over a third of these were rapes. 

When the global Covid-19 pandemic set in, we realised that there was a shadow pandemic that was spreading fast. It was the rise of violence against women that shot up to 70% on the previous – already high – incidence rate recorded, for instance, in the Flanders region in Belgium during the second week of the first lockdown. 

Every single victim is one victim too many. Yet inadequate responses to gender-based violence and domestic violence and anomalies to existing systems leave many women and girls violated, unsupported and unprotected by the judicial system, if not dead. 

It was necessary to develop new reporting tools for those victims caught in a lockdown with their abusers. Vital institutional safeguards had to be reinvented, prompting a reflection on whether the new methods of operation should become a permanent fixture of our strategies addressing violence against women and domestic violence. 

Numerous Member States set up round the clock helplines, launched awareness raising campaigns in pharmacies, increased shelter capacity and declared support services as essential, thus ensuring their continuous operation despite pandemic-related restrictions. While these were positive responses, we must step up our prevention programmes further and improve services, setting minimum benchmarks for all of the EU territory. Concurrently, online violence against women spread exponentially. A recent Plan International survey of 14,000 girls across the world found that as many as 58% experienced online harassment and abuse. Often, this happens without any consequence for the perpetrators. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention is the most effective international legal instrument in existence. Over the last decade, it triggered important national reforms. Nonetheless, six EU Member States have not ratified the Convention yet. While the European Commission remains committed to ratify the Convention, the lack of accord from the Council to this prospect prompted us to develop our own legislative proposal to address violence against women and domestic violence. 

Today, on International Women’s Day, the European Commission is adopting a legislative proposal that introduces common minimum standards for all Member States on prevention, protection, support for victims, access to justice, and cooperation and coordination of services. 

We are proposing the criminalisation of violence against women, including online violence such as non-consensual sharing of intimate images, videos or audio files, or threats to do so; and rape which includes all non-consensual body penetration. 

Once adopted, this new law would demand dedicated helplines for victims of violence. This will be strengthened further through a harmonised EU-wide number – 116 016 – that will direct victims to 

the right services and authorities wherever they are in the EU. We want to make sure that no victim has to deal with gender-based violence alone. 

I am convinced that with today’s proposal we can make a difference for women EU-wide. Of course, this requires the European Parliament and Council’s accord. I hope that the recent spike in gender-based violence guides Member States to reach common ground promptly, so as to protect women and girls from violent sexist behaviour that violates our dignity and rights. 

Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality

Details

Publication date
8 March 2022
Author
Representation in Malta