The European Commission has proposed EU-wide rules to combat violence against women and domestic violence in 2022. The proposed directive will criminalize rape defined on the basis of lack of consent, female genital mutilation and cyber violence, including: non-consensual sharing of intimate images; cyber stalking for the purpose of harassment; cyber harassment; cyber incitement to violence or hatred. The new rules also strengthen victims’ access to justice and encourage Member States to implement a one-stop-shop mechanism, which means that all support and protection services should be located in one place. Victims should be able to claim compensation during criminal proceedings. The proposal also calls for appropriate and specialized protection and support measures to be taken, for example through free helplines and rape crisis centers. It also provides for specific support for groups with specific needs or groups at risk, including women fleeing armed conflict.
The key elements of the proposed new rules:
- Criminalization of rape, female genital mutilation and cyber violence
The Commission proposes that the following acts be criminalized as crimes in all EU member states: (i) rape defined on the basis of lack of consent; (ii) female genital mutilation; (iii) cyber stalking for the purpose of harassment; (iv) non-consensual sharing of intimate images; (v) cyber bullying and (vi) cyber incitement to hatred or violence.
The proposal complements the Digital Services Act by making it operational by defining illegal online content related to cyber violence. It will also enable swift legal proceedings to quickly remove relevant online content.
- Safe reporting and risk assessment procedures
The proposal addresses the under-reporting of cases of violence against women, an issue still unresolved. It introduces new ways of reporting violence that are gender sensitive, safer, simpler and more accessible – including online – and are child-friendly. Confidentiality regimes will no longer be a barrier to reporting imminent risks of serious bodily harm by professionals such as health workers or psychiatrists. Authorities would also be required to carry out individual risk assessments when the victim first contacts them to assess the risk posed by the offender. On this basis,
- Respecting the privacy of victims in legal proceedings
The commission proposes that evidence or questions about victims’ private lives, especially their sexual history, can only be used when strictly necessary. Victims would have the right to seek full compensation from perpetrators for damages, including the costs of medical care, support services, loss of income, as well as physical and psychological harm. They should also be able to obtain compensation during criminal proceedings.
- Victim support through rape hotlines and emergency drop-in centers
In order to respond to the very specific needs of victims of sexual violence, the Commission proposes that Member States provide specific services, including rape emergency reception centers. Victims facing an increased risk of violence, including women fleeing armed conflict, should receive specific support from Member States. The national helpline for victims of violence against women and domestic violence should be available 24/7, all year round and free of charge. When the victim is a child, the support provided by the authorities should be age-appropriate, taking into account the best interests of the child. Victims of cyber violence will also be entitled to adequate support, including advice on how to seek legal assistance and how to remove online content. In cases of sexual harassment at work, external counseling services should be made available to victims and employers.
Violence against women and
domestic violence is widespread across the EU and is estimated to affect 1 in 3
women in the EU. One in two women has been a victim of sexual harassment. One
in 20 women say they have been raped. Online violence is also on the rise,
particularly targeting women in public life, such as those involved in
journalism and politics. 1 in 2 young women have experienced gender-based cyber
violence. Women also face violence in the workplace: around a third of women in
the EU who have experienced sexual harassment have been victims of sexual
harassment at work.