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26th Apr 2019

Study reveals widespread violence against women in EU

  • Stockholm: Women in Scandinavian countries are more likely to report abuse (Photo: Nina Burge)

In the world’s largest study of its kind, the EU agency for fundamental rights (FRA) found that one in three women in the European Union have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15.

The results of the study, published on Wednesday (5 March), reveal widespread abuse of women throughout every member state.

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“The enormity of the problem is proof that violence against women does not just impact a few women only – it impacts on society every day,” said FRA director Morten Kjaerum.

The Vienna-based agency interviewed 42,000 women. The interviews were conducted face-to-face in a private setting and by women only.

They were asked to describe their experiences of physical, sexual, and psychological violence since the age of 15 and in the past 12 months. Standardised questions on domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment both online and offline were also asked.

The survey found 22 percent have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner.

“The figures are somewhat higher in the Scandinavian countries,” Joanna Goodey, head of the freedoms and justice department at FRA, told reporters in Brussels.

Goodey said there are a number of factors that could explain the higher Nordic figures.

She noted that women in Scandinavian societies are more easily able to talk about what is happening to them. Aggressive gender equality campaigns in Scandinavia also mean women occupy roles once reserved for men, she said.

The study found, for instance, that 75 percent of women in qualified professions or top management jobs have been sexually harassed.

“Women in highly qualified top positions may also be confronted with settings which are not traditionally female so they may experience more abuse as they climb up the ladder,” said Goodey.

Almost one in 10 women who have experienced sexual violence by a non-partner, indicate that more than one perpetrator was involved in the most serious incident.

Five percent of all women have been raped.

Children are not immune from the abuse. Thirty-three percent have childhood experiences of physical or sexual violence at the hands of an adult.

Twelve percent were sexually assaulted as children, of which half were from men they did not know.

“For certain children, they were experiencing more than one type of abuse, so we only counted if they experience multiple experiences only once,” said Goodey.

At over 50 percent, Estonia and Finland, top the list for any physical, sexual or psychological violence against girls. At 15 percent, Cyprus is the lowest followed by Slovenia at 16 percent.

Young women are also more likely to be harassed or stalked sexually online.

Over half of all women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Thirty-percent said the perpetrator was a boss, colleague or customer.

Most do not report the abuse to the police.

“Overwhelmingly, what we see is that the majority of women are visiting a doctor or health care centre or other health care provider or a hospital,” said Goodey.

The study says the scale of physical and sexual violence experienced by women requires for renewed policy attention.

It calls for targeted prevention and awareness raising campaigns for both men and women and suggests member states review their legislation to ensure it is in line with EU law and Council of Europe conventions.

“We have laws in place, we have gender equality laws for a number of decades but are they working in practice?”, asked Goodey.

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