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European Commission Representation in Cyprus
News article6 February 2024Representation in Cyprus7 min read

Commission welcomes political agreement on new rules to combat violence against women and domestic violence

The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached today between the European Parliament and the Council on the Commission's proposal for a Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence from March 2022.

Orange flag in front of the Berlaymont building on the occasion of UN's VaW campaign "Invest to prevent violence against women and girls"

The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached today between the European Parliament and the Council on the Commission's proposal for a Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence from March 2022. The Directive is a milestone - the first comprehensive legal instrument at EU level to tackle violence against women, which is still too pervasive in the European Union. It follows the commitment taken by President von der Leyen in her Political Guidelines to do everything possible to prevent violence against women, including domestic violence, to protect victims and punish offenders.

The Directive criminalises physical violence, as well as psychological, economic and sexual violence against women across the EU, both offline and online. Female genital mutilation as well as forced marriage will be criminalised as stand-alone crimes.  Moreover, the most widespread forms of cyber-violence will be criminalised under the new rules, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (including deepfakes), cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, misogynous hate speech and “cyber-flashing”. These criminalisations will in particular help victims of these forms of cyberviolence in Member States that did not yet criminalise these acts. This is an urgent issue to address, given the exponential spread and dramatic impact of violence online.

One key to combat cyber-violence is digital literacy. That is why the new Directive also requires measures to develop skills that enable users to identify and address cyber violence, seek support and prevent its perpetration.

While no agreement was found on the criminalisation of rape based on lack of consent at Union level, proposed by the Commission, the Directive includes strong prevention requirements to, first, promote the central role of consent in sexual relationships and, second, take targeted measures for the prevention of rape.

The new Directive also provides for measures to prevent all types of violence against women, including domestic violence and sets new standards for victims' protection, support, and access to justice, for example, by obliging Member States to establish helplines and rape crisis centres to support victims.

As proposed by the Commission, the Directive will require Member States to ensure safe, gender-sensitive and easier reporting of crimes of violence against women and domestic violence - including an option to report online. This will tackle the under-reporting of violence against women that still exists today. Moreover, law enforcement authorities will have to assess if the offender might do further harm to the victim and, in that case, take necessary protection measures, such as the prohibition to enter the home of the victim. 

The respect for the victims' privacy in judicial proceedings is another key point of the new rules.

Finally, to ensure better coordination and cooperation, Member States will be encouraged to gather the most important data on violence against women and foster coordination and exchanges of best practices and cooperation in criminal cases, including via Eurojust and the European Judicial Network.

Background

As stated in the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the European Commission is committed to preventing and combating gender-based violence. On 1 October 2023, the Commission became a party to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence - the Istanbul Convention. The EU is now bound by ambitious and comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women in the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum and non-refoulement and with regard to its public administration. This includes funding, policy, and legislative measures. The EU's accession to the Istanbul Convention is a milestone in the EU's efforts to realise gender equality.

In autumn 2023, the Commission established an EU network on the prevention of gender-based violence and domestic violence. The first in-person meeting took place in Brussels on 29-30 November 2023. The network provides the space for Member States and stakeholders to discuss new and emerging issues relating to violence prevention, as well as exchange knowledge and good practices. The next meeting will take place in April.

On 6 February, the Commission adopted a proposal to update the criminal law rules on child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. These revised rules expand the definitions of offences and introduce higher penalties and more specific requirements for prevention and assistance to victims. They are complementary to the proposal for a Regulation on preventing and combating child sexual abuse online adopted in May 2022. This Regulation will oblige providers to prevent, detect, report, and remove child sexual abuse material on their services. It will also create a European Centre to prevent and combat child sexual abuse as a new EU agency. The proposal is in negotiations with the co-legislators.

The Commission has already achieved most of the actions under its first EU Strategy on victims' rights (2020-2025), to ensure that all victims in the EU can fully benefit from their rights under EU law. On 12 July 2023, the Commission adopted the proposal for a Directive amending the 2012 Victims' Rights Directive, the main horizontal instrument on victims' rights. The proposal aims to further strengthen the rights of all victims of crime in the EU, including the rights of the most vulnerable victims.

The Commission provides funding for projects and organisations to tackle gender-based violence through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme. A new call for proposals, amounting to almost EUR 25 million opened for applications on 12 December 2023. Funds will be directed towards transnational actions on tackling gender-based violence, prevention of gender-based violence in the domestic sphere, in intimate relationships and the protection of and support for survivors of gender-based violence including child protection systems.

The majority of victims of trafficking registered in the EU are women and girls. The EU's legal and policy framework is set out in the Anti-Trafficking Directive. In April 2021, the Commission presented the EU Strategy on combating trafficking in human beings (2021-2025), which emphasises the protection of victims at all stages, taking into account, in particular, women and child victims, and trafficking for sexual exploitation. As one of the key actions of the EU Strategy, the Commission proposed a revision of the Anti-Trafficking Directive in December 2022, on which a political agreement was reached between the co-legislators in January 2024.

Internationally, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) as well as the Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in External Action 2021 – 2025 (GAP III) stand as the EU's ambitious framework for achieving progress on gender equality and women's empowerment. The EU, as co-leader of the Generation Equality Forum's Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence, will continue its efforts to curb gender-based violence, including sexual violence, throughout the world, including in conflict and emergencies. For example, the global Spotlight Initiative launched by the EU and the UN, with an initial EU investment of €500 million, aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

EU financial commitments for the prevention and response to gender-based violence went from an annual average of EUR 91 million in 2014 to EUR 282 million in 2022.

For More Information

Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence

Istanbul Convention

Ending gender-based violence

Communication on a strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse

Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography

Proposal for a Regulation laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse

Proposal for a Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims

New rules to fight trafficking in human beings (europa.eu)

Gender Action Plan III

Quote(s)

 

Today´s proposal brings significant changes for all women in Europe. It is an important step against many forms of violence in real world but mainly it brings a major change in an online world by criminalizing certain forms of cyber-violence. The latest developments show it is high time. Non-consensual sharing of intimate images, including AI-generated ones, may lead to mental health issues and even to suicides in extreme cases; cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment wipes out women from public space. This Directive would ensure that the authors of such a coward behavior don’t go unpunished.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency

 

Today’s agreement on a Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence is a victory for gender equality throughout the European Union. This Directive extends protections beyond physical violence to include psychological, economic, and sexual violence. I extend my congratulations to the Council and the European Parliament for today’s progress. Nonetheless, our journey must continue to ensure an EU wide recognition of rape as a non-consensual act.

Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality

Details

Publication date
6 February 2024 (Last updated on: 6 February 2024)
Author
Representation in Cyprus