Today, the European Parliament voted on a progressive report that would significantly improve legislation on sexual and domestic violence at EU level. The proposed directive sets out minimum EU-wide rules on the definition of criminal offences and penalties in the areas of the sexual exploitation of women and children and computer crime.

It also aims to close gaps in protection and access to justice across the EU, tackle under-reporting and require member states to improve prevention, support and services for survivors.

Specifically, the text criminalises rape in the absence of consent, also known as affirmative consent or only yes means yes, includes measures on female genital mutilation and on various forms of cyber violence including stalking and incitement, and the non-consensual distribution of intimate and manipulated material.

In the text agreed in Parliament today, there are also a number of improvements to the Commission’s proposal including:

  •  An intersectional approach taking into account specific needs based on sexual orientation, race, disability and residence status. It also calls for targeted support for survivors who are pregnant, live in rural areas, homeless, undocumented or applying for refugee status;
  •  A broad range of violent conduct including; genital mutilation, intersex genital mutilation and forced sterilisation;
  • Strong provisions to improve reporting, training for authorities and professionals working with survivors and on access to justice, legal aid and compensation.

Left MEP, Maria Eugenia Rodriguez Palop, (Podemos, Spain) said: “Today we take a crucial step forward in the fight against gender-based violence in the EU. This Directive will establish standards for tackling violence against women in all Member States. First, it explicitly recognises rape, female genital mutilation and some forms of cyber-violence. Second, the Directive provides relevant measures for prevention, protection, support and access to justice for victims, as well as the obligation to establish a system for data collection. Also, we have delved into the role of consent, which now forms the centrepiece of all rape offences. This is excellent news for women. We hope that in future negotiations, the proposal will not be watered down. In the face of a reactionary far-right, we are moving forward – backtracking is not an option.”

Malin Björk from the Swedish Left Party said: “I am very happy that we today have voted through a strong position to combat gender-based violence. We feminists in the European Parliament have been calling for a directive to combat this form of violence for more than a decade. I am especially pleased that the Parliament is calling for a strong law, and that we highlight the important role of preventive measures and support to women’s support services. This is essential in strengthening the rights of victims of violence and sexual abuse.”

In the EU 33 % of women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; one in 10 women suffered some form of sexual violence, and one in 20 has been raped.

In the home, or intimate lives of women, over one in five women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner, whilst 43% of women have experienced some form of psychologically abusive and/or controlling behaviour when in a relationship.

The European Parliament has a long history of calling for EU action to combat violence against women in the EU, and has repeatedly called on the Council to identify violence against women as a crime under the Treaties.

However, it was not until March 2023 that the Commission finally published its proposal. It followed the UN call for coordinated and worldwide action to reduce violence against women and girls, given the intensified rates of violence, particularly domestic violence and online abuse, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“My only disappointment is that the big issue of pimping and prostitution is not addressed in the text. I don’t see how we can put an end to violence against women as we protect the pimps and shy away from targeting the buyers,” continued Björk.

Today’s vote took place at committee level and the vote in plenary will take place in the July Strasbourg session.

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