Press Releases

EU divided: combating rape a priority for the Commission and the Parliament, but not the Council

[Brussels, 2 October 2023] Since yesterday, the EU is an official party to the Istanbul Convention, the most comprehensive tool to end violence against women and domestic violence in Europe. With the accession, the EU should commit to combat all forms of violence against women included in the convention, including sexual violence.

Unfortunately, this remarkable moment that women’s organisations fought for for years is overshadowed by the hypocrisy of some Member States pushing to remove the mention of rape from the new EU law on combating violence against women.

Women and girls in Europe cannot wait any longer.

  • 1 in 10 women in the Netherlands has been raped at some point in their life.
  • Almost 1 in 2 (47%) Maltese think that women often make up or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape.
  • More than 1 in 2 persons (55%) in Romania believe that having sexual intercourse without consent can be justified in certain situations such as being drunk or wearing revealing clothing.
  • Every 7 minutes a woman is raped in France, accounting for 205 rapes each day.

The EU must do better.

Contrary to statements of some European governments, there is no legal justification that impedes considering rape as a form of sexual exploitation. The EU crime of sexual exploitation of women and children has already been used to criminalise sexual abuse of children in the Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.

Furthermore, 12 EU Member States still have definitions of rape based on the use of force that do not meet the standards of the Istanbul Convention and do not offer adequate support to victims, leaving women across the EU unsupported, stigmatised and vulnerable. At least 18 EU member States could benefit from the adoption of the provisions on rape and the definition of consent based on the “only yes means yes” principle made by the European Parliament. This way, victims of rape across the EU will be equally protected no matter where they live.

There is no reason to let women down like this, other than the lack of political will. The European Commission developed a legal analysis to assess the legal basis for this Directive and the interpretation of rape as sexual exploitation is not only accurate from a legal point of view but is also widely supported by women’s organisations and civil society in Europe.

We continue calling the decision-makers to stand for women’s rights both with words and with actions and swiftly adopt a strong Directive to combat violence against women.

Some countries, like France and Germany, are going as far as actively lobbying for rape to be excluded from this law. We cannot let them succeed. We ask all citizens to join us in contacting their national governments and Ministries of Justice and demand that women’s safety is put as a priority, and not used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

Sex without freely given consent is rape, it is sexual exploitation and it is one of the most serious crimes against women’s rights and dignity. According to the UN, rape and sexual violence can even constitute "war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."

The EU, as a party to the Istanbul Convention, is obliged to act to end violence against women including rape. We won’t let the EU fail women this time around.

The EU must put an end to rape, and it must do it now.

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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