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On International day for the elimination of violence against women, the EU is still divided over the crime of rape

Street action 8 November EWL-WEMoveEurope - Pictures by (C) Javier Bernal Revert

[Brussels, 24 November 2023] Women’s rights organisations all across the EU, members of the European Women’s Lobby, are outraged to see the lack of progress in the negotiations on the proposed Directive on violence against women and domestic violence; and the disgraceful blockage posed by several Member States to the article on the offence of rape despite the strong positions in favour adopted by the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Street action Only YES means YES

Pictures by Javier Bernal Revert

The first ever EU law on violence against women and domestic violence is currently at the negotiation table at EU level. The Council of the EU is inadmissibly watering down the proposal eliminating its gender sensitive perspective and its intersectional approach to ensure that all women and girls access justice and protection. Driven by countries like France and Germany, the Council of the EU proposes to delete the article providing a common definition of rape based on the lack of freely given consent. Other EU member states, like Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg and others, disagree with this position and regret the lack of political ambition.

Women’s rights are not negotiable. Every women and girl, regardless of where they live in Europe are at risk of being raped and deserve the same level of rights and protection.

Women’s organisations urge their Member States to ensure that a consent-based definition of rape is put back in the EU Directive. We call them to stand for women’s rights both with words and actions and swiftly adopt a strong Directive to combat violence against women and protect its victims.

Some countries, like France and Germany, are going as far as actively lobbying for rape not to be discussed anymore. We cannot let them succeed. Legal arguments are being used as an excuse to hide their lack of political ambition. More than 120 legal experts, lawyers and jurists across the EU have signed this open letter providing the legal argumentsOpen Letter on the Legal basis of the Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence and the article on the offence of rape that refute the Member States’ excuses.

Since 1 October 2023, the EU is an official party to the Istanbul Convention, the most comprehensive tool to end violence against women and domestic violence in Europe. Unfortunately, this remarkable moment that women’s organisations fought for for years is overshadowed by the hypocrisy of these Member States. All forms of violence against women in the Convention should be adequately addressed and prevented, including sexual violence and rape which are part of EU Competences. The definitions of sexual violence, rape and consent proposed by the European Parliament in the Directive are in complete allignment with the article 36 of the Istanbul Convention and therefore EU member states that have ratified the Convention are already bound by it. Both the European Commission and the Parliament use the standards and the recommendations of GREVIO to establish their proposals.

Rape is one of the most pervasive and brutal forms of violence against women and girls systematically used to silence women across Europe. According to the UN, rape and sexual violence constitute "war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."

But despite all that, today there is no common approach on this issue across the EU. Still today, 11 Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) have definitions on rape that are based on force as the main element of the crime. These laws fail to protect women who need to prove that they physically resisted to rape. They lead to secondary victimisation as they do not recognise common reactions like freezing from fear. These reactions aren’t either adequately covered by the “no means no ’’ consent- based approach prevalent in Austria in Germany. Women still need to prove they said no since the degree of resistance, whether verbal or non-verbal, is used as a measure of whether the victim consented.

Rape must be an offence 2

A common approach at EU level based on an affirmative approach based on freely given consent in conditions of equality and mutuality is a must. The “only yes means yes” approach has proven to work better to protect and ensure access to justice and reparation. In countries where this model has been adopted, like Sweden, prosecutors and judges have welcomed these positive changes that have led to an increase in reporting and conviction rates. This model helps people understand that sex without free will is not sex but rape and it helps ending persistent myths about sexual crimes being only perpetrated by strangers.

Testimonies of survivors and activists also help break these myths. Marta Asensio spoke up about her experience when her partner administered her drugs to rape her overnight. These brave testimonies tell us the story of victimisation women suffer: the lack of advice and support during the process and the never achieved reparation. But, the judicial sector cannot ensure reparation for victims without adequate laws. In the meantime, a culture of impunity prevails.

On the International Day to End Violence Against Women and during the 16 days of activism, EU Member States’ leaders will launch statements and tweet messages of support to the cause. While doing so, their hypocrisy will serve as an insult to women and girls who they chose to betray by refusing to take action to address rape on a common basis at EU level, one of the most brutal and heinous crimes against women’s rights.

There is no excuse to let women down like this. Women and girls in the EU cannot wait any longer.

We call on all citizens to join us in putting pressure on their national governments and Ministries of Justice and demand that women’s safety is of utmost priority. We are loud and united and our message is clear: we want a definition of rape based on freely given consent to be put back in the final text of the EU Directive so that all women in the EU no matter where they live or travel can be protected on the same basis.

Add your signature to the more than 126.000 people that have already joined this WeMove Europe petition:

Pictures by (C) Javier Bernal Revert

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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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