April 19. 2024. 8:51

The Daily

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Lack of data, definitions shows EU is failing women

In 1977, the UN recognised 8 March as International Women’s Day, but in 2023, almost half of European women will experience at least one form of domestic violence in their lifetime, and between 2010-2021 at least 6593 women were killed by a male family member or partner.

But this ‘silent war against women’ is being lost as the EURACTIV network found that European governments are failing to collect reliable, comparable data on domestic violence, rape, and femicide, with divergence in legal definitions and criminalisation of forms of gender-based violence.

Poor quality data full of holes and inconsistencies, when coupled with a lack of cross-border frameworks, undermines national and EU-wide efforts to deliver justice, provide protection, and obtain convictions.

With state resources already strained across Europe due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, women struggle to get their needs met, with much falling on the shoulders of NGOs. This is further hampered by the failure of authorities to collect proper data or even define what constitutes domestic violence or femicide.

Even the European Commission does not have a clear overview of the situation. When asked by EURACTIV about figures and trends across the bloc, a spokesperson asked not to be quoted, pointed in the direction of some published reports and said to “keep an eye” on the press corner nearer 8 March.

The European Women’s Lobby told EURACTIV that the lack of data available, as well as little in the way of proper definitions of femicide or domestic violence at a national or bloc-wide level, is problematic.

“The lack of data is dramatic over the EU: Scale of the problem is highly underestimated according to the reports from women’s organisations; women’s organisations are well aware that the existent figures don’t give us the full picture. In reality, the situation is much worse and therefore, policies in place are not able to address the phenomenon fully.”

They added that for “many years”, they have been unable to fully quantify the scale of the situation. “No score is given to the EU in the domain of violence due to a lack of comparable EU-wide data,” they said in written comments to EURACTIV.

Shortcomings at a national level

“Each femicide is a failure, and it’s revolting,” French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told journalists on Tuesday (7 March). UN Women defines femicide as “an intentional killing with a gender-related motivation”.

France does not recognise femicide as a legal concept, but public debates continue on its inclusion. Keeping count of femicides falls largely to NGOs such as Nous Toutes, who registered an increase of 102 in 2020 to 147 in 2022.

As for domestic violence, over 159,000 cases were recorded in 2020, a 10% increase in 2019, with 87% female victims. Sexual violence has also increased by 30% between 2017-2022.

Austria has not officially updated data on femicide since 2020. However, data between 2016-2018 revealed it was the only country in the EU where more women were murdered than men: in 2017, 27 out of 48 victims were female.

The authorities also failed to gather information on rape, domestic violence, and convictions. The most reliable data EURACTIV could find from 2014 showing that 20% of women experienced one form of violence from the age of 15, 15% experienced stalking, 38% psychological abuse, and 35% experienced sexual abuse.

In Belgium, the government also failed to keep a score of femicides, but according to StopFeminicide, a platform that monitors femicides based on media reports, there were at least 24 femicides in 2022, 22 in 2021, 27 in 2020, 25 in 2019, 39 in 2018, and 43 in 2017. In 2023, three femicides have already been committed.

As for domestic violence, Amnesty estimates more than 45,000 reports of intimate partner violence are made every year in Belgium.

In Czechia, the government records instances of violence against women, although the concept of domestic violence is not recognised. It noted a more than 100% increase from 616 in 2021 to 1,418 in 2022 but had no data on femicide.

According to the ROSA – Centre for Women, about 200 femicide cases have been committed in the past 20 years. The Czech Women’s Lobby said the demand for assistance for women in need has also increased, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A general definition of domestic violence is currently being drafted, and it will be included in the Civil Code (of the Czech Republic),” the Interior Ministry told EURACTIV.cz.

Bulgaria is slightly better at keeping records. Although the government does not have a centralised register for recording all instances of domestic violence, Interior Ministry data shows an increase in reports from 22,591 in 2019 to 27,557 in 2021.

The number of femicides also increased over the last three years, with a total of 132 victims between 2018 and 2022.

However, the Bulgarian government does not have a centralised register for recording all instances of domestic violence, risking holes in the data.

In Germany, femicide and domestic violence are also absent from the criminal code and instead are classed together with other homicides and ‘bodily harms’, thus clouding the data once again.

Available data, however, shows that a woman is killed by a family member or current or former partner every three days, with 13 women killed in 2021 when the latest data was published.

According to a November report from Germany’s Federal Criminal Agency, 143,000 victims of domestic violence were recorded in 2022, of whom 80% were women while 79% were male perpetrators.

Outside the EU, in Albania, 53% of women will experience at least one form of domestic violence in their lifetime – one of the highest rates on the continent. Some 4,000 women denounced the violence in 2022, a year that 150 protection orders were issued. Since 2019, 23 women in Albania have been murdered by a partner or ex-partner, according to civil society monitoring.

Femicide is not a concept in Albanian law, nor is domestic violence, instead being classified under ‘family violence’.

Across the pond in the US, femicide is not recognised as different from homicide, but domestic violence is recognised as a crime at a federal level. National data on crimes and convictions are hard to come by, but it is estimated that three women in the US are murdered by an intimate partner every day.

A handful of winners

Spain is the EU country with the most sophisticated way of recording violence against women. The law defines domestic violence, gender violence and femicide, and the government collects data annually.

An average of around 30,000 gender violence victims were recorded annually between 2019 and 2021, with 8,000 domestic violence cases and 202 femicides between 2019 and 2022. In addition, more than 100,000 protection orders were issued between 2019 and 2022.

According to the government, the Ministry of Equality allocated 56% of its total budget, or 320 million euros, to measures and programmes to battle gender violence and offer assistance to the victims.

In Poland, since 2023, domestic violence has existed as a concept in law which provides more protection and assistance for victims. Similarly, in Slovakia, it is enshrined in the law, which even recognises ‘ill treatment’ covering coercive control and psychological abuse – something missing in many other countries.

Other forms of violence

EURACTIV also found a divergence in how member states criminalise psychological violence, coercion, and other forms of non-physical abuse.

Coercive control is defined as “an act or a pattern of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim”. It can be closely linked with other forms of violence, such as physical, sexual and financial abuse.

A 2022 report by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) found that psychological violence, emotional abuse and coercive control were “an entrenched and endemic phenomenon” in EU member states, with 44% of women experiencing it in their lifetime.

While a 2020 European Parliament study found that most member states criminalised psychological violence as a form of domestic violence, differing terminology and measurement units hampered data collection.

Although 39 European states have signed the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s human rights treaty on the prevention of violence against women, only six are in compliance with the article on psychological violence: France, Ireland, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, and Sweden.

Lack of convictions

But it is not just missing, old, or inconsistent data harming Europe’s women. Conviction rates remain shockingly low across the bloc, preventing women from reporting crimes against them.

In Bulgaria, a 2020 poll by Amnesty and SOS Viol found that 77% of respondents don’t trust the judiciary in cases of sexual violence. With 53% of rape cases dismissed – mainly for lack of evidence (63%), the unknown perpetrator (16%) and the absence of an offence (8.5%) – and even less resulting in a conviction, it is not hard to see why.

Out of the 10% of French women who file a complaint, only 1% will secure a conviction. Criminal sentences for violence against women have also fallen by around 40% in the last few years.

In Czechia, 75% of those who end up in court for what could be classed as domestic violence walk away with a suspended sentence, while in Germany, conviction is secured in only 7.5% of cases.

“The debate on domestic violence has opened up, especially during the pandemic crisis. But also about sexual violence and rape, for which the penalties are so low that it outrages young people in particular,” said Hana Stelzerová, Director of the Czech Women’s Lobby.

In Albania, where significant social stigma remains around reporting such crimes, only 17% of reports result in arrest, and 13% get to court.

Out of domestic violence complaints that make it to Belgian courts, a 2010 study found that no conviction was gained in 70% of cases. No more recent data was available.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in November 2022 that to increase conviction rates, “we have to name violence against women even more clearly as such and record it even better to be able to fight it effectively. There must be no trivialisation of violence against women”.

What’s the solution?

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is working to collect data from member states and aggregate it in one single place.

EIGE has proposed a classification system to gather data on other forms of killings that go beyond the intimate partner, such as sexual violence-related killing, honour-based killings, etc., but a spokesperson told EURACTIV that the data collected is not up to date.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in November: “The EU condemns all forms of violence against women and girls. It is unacceptable in the 21st century that women and girls continue to be abused, harassed, raped, mutilated or forced into marriage.”

On that same day, the European Commission established a common EU helpline number for women who experience violence.

Last year, on International Women’s day, the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence, aimed to ensure a minimum level of protection across the EU against such violence.

But the European Women’s Lobby said there is no time to waste regarding the directive.

“EWL calls for the swift adoption of the EU Directive on violence against women and domestic violence to create a coherent system for data collection with consistently understood definitions of the phenomenon,” the group told EURACTIV.

They also called for the final ratification of the Istanbul Convention. which they hope will be completed by June 2023, despite refusals from six member states to do so.

For help or support regarding domestic abuse and violence against women, find your national helpline here or call the EU-wide helpline at 116 016.