Sexual harassment is a pervasive and common experience for many women in the EU. For example, one in five women have experienced the unpleasant experience of touching, hugging or kissing against their will since the age of 15, and 6% of women have experienced this type of harassment at least six times since the age of 15. Of the women who had experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15, 32% named a colleague, boss or client as the perpetrator(s).
Sexual harassment of women involves a wide range of different perpetrators and may include the use of ‘new’ technologies. According to a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published in 2014, one in 10 women (11%) have experienced inappropriate advances on social networking sites or received sexually explicit emails or text messages. These forms of sexual harassment disproportionately affect young women. EU Member States need to review the existing scope of legislative and policy responses to sexual harassment, recognizing that sexual harassment can take place in a variety of contexts and by different means, such as the internet or mobile phones. As with cyber stalking for the purpose of harassment, police can be encouraged to recognize and investigate cases involving cyber harassment as part of their regular work.
According to the study “Violence against women: an EU-wide survey” by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, half of the women interviewed in the study said they avoid certain situations or places at least sometimes for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted. By comparison, as existing surveys of the general population on crime and victimization show, fear of crime and its impact on men’s lives is generally lower than for women. Women’s fear of crime – specifically, their fear of gender-based violence – needs to be recognized and addressed at European, national and local level, given its negative impact on women’s everyday freedom of movement.
Many women who report high levels of fear of assault tend to have experienced very high levels of physical or sexual violence. Given that high levels of fear may reflect experiences of abuse, health care professionals and other practitioners with responsibilities in this area may be encouraged, as appropriate, to request and collect information about fear of victimization in an effort to identify possible abuse.
In terms of Attitudes towards and awareness of violence against women Women perceive violence against women as common or rare in their countries depending on their own experiences of violence by their partner or by someone other than their partner, the extent to which they know other women who are victims of violence, and whether they are aware of campaigns targeting violence against women. In developing policies to raise awareness of violence against women in different contexts and among different groups of women, all of the above factors need to be taken into account.
Awareness-raising campaigns at EU Member State level are essential to increase women’s (and men’s) knowledge of gender-based violence, to encourage reporting, to protect victims and to take preventive measures.
Women who are victims of violence rarely report it to specialized services. If we are to have successful campaigns to raise awareness of violence against women and encourage reporting, there must be specialized services with the resources to respond to the needs of victims.