Gender-Based Violence in Europe
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As a young woman in Ireland, it is discouraged to stand up against sexist/sexual jokes, even if they normalize and minimize the severity of rape, thus perpetuating the rape culture. Though there is more awareness in Ireland on the issue of Gender-Based Violence, society still chooses to treat the issue as if it only affects lower-class or ethnic women. This could explain why there is a lack of reporting, and a lack of convictions. The patriarchal ideology which exists across the world has led to an established norm where it is deemed ‘unladylike’ for women to speak out about their sexuality and demand more state legislation to protect, not only victims of sexual and gender-based crimes, but also the survivors. Male violence against women has often been justified as the man reacting from sexual frustration, life pressures or psychological problems, all of which oversimplify a complex reality where men have been taught to view the world with dominance and control. When rape or sexual violence occurs, it is to dominate, control and punish the victims for reasons which cannot be generalised or justified.
Gender-based violence and sexual violence affects the lives of many women in the European Union, yet very limited information exists. Information on sexual violence against women is difficult to compare due to the nature of the violence and the fact that there is no commonly understood definition of sexual violence. According to a recent study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2014, an estimated 3.7 million women have experienced sexual violence in the EU, in the twelve months before the survey interviews (FRA, 2014). The survey also found that one in twenty women have been raped since the age of fifteen, twenty-two percent of women have experienced sexual and/ or physical violence by a partner since the age of fifteen and one in six women have been victimised by a previous partner (ibid).
Though drastic improvements are needed in Ireland in relation to sexual violence, the situation in Europe is similar almost across the board. Gender-neutral states such as Sweden, and states with high levels of inequality such as Poland, have the same issue with sexual violence: under- reporting and unspecific legislation. The levels of sexual violence across the EU are similar if we take population size and definitions of sexual violence into account. Ireland is not alone with its high levels of sexual violence, limited public awareness and problems with conviction rates; the issue is present in every EU Member State.
The acknowledgement of sexual violence as a major social problem is still relatively new, occurring in the last few decades, and positive policy shifts have been implemented which have changed the way society has responded and viewed sexual violence. Women’s organisations, along with development plans and conventions by the UN and Council of Europe, have succeeded in making the issue visible to national governments and society. However, much more is needed to change attitudes towards supporting survivors, encouraging victims to speak out and holding the perpetrators accountable. This dissertation has examined sexual violence and gender-based violence in Ireland. It has been found that high levels of sexual violence exist in Ireland, yet Irish legislation and policies on the issue have yet to be revised to reflect the severity of this problem. A gap has become clear - there is a disparity between the reality of the situation and what national governments and the public believe. Women often do not report because they are embarrassed; they fear they will not be believed; they fear they will face re-victimisation either on trial or by the offender and are afraid that they will be blamed for the violent act. The way the public perceives the victims of sexual violence, and the way in which they define sexual violence, is inherently different to women’s organisations, survivors and experts in the field.