Guest commentary – Protection against violence must start with education

One obstacle in the fight against gender-based violence is that this form of violence is still not fully perceived as a social problem and that a significant part of the European population considers it primarily a domestic problem. As a result, the victims either keep silent about the act of violence and fail to report it or, if they do, they themselves are exposed to accusations.

Far too often, victims are asked about an alleged trigger in their behavior or clothing, as if the perpetrators’ violence could be justified. The focus is not infrequently shifted in this way. In fact, 27 percent of EU citizens believe that non-consensual sexual intercourse can be justified in certain situations. The truth is, non-consensual sex is always rape.

Deeply rooted justifications for violence

Helena Dalli is the EU Commissioner for Gender Equality. – © EU / Lukasz Kobus

There is no justification for gender and domestic violence. Achieving a social rethink is so difficult because justifications for these forms of violence can be deeply rooted in our culture. For example, our judgment can be tarnished by some masterpieces of art and literature that aesthetically depict attempted rape.

Take the myth of Daphne and Apollo. In Ovid’s account of the story, Apollo is struck by Cupid’s arrow, justifying that he inevitably “falls in love” with the nymph. Ovid tells of a frightened Daphne who is fleeing from Apollo, who is stalking her. Although Daphne escapes attack on her human form, she is forcibly silenced as the object of Apollo’s lust.

If you want to bring about a social change and clear up mistakes about gender-specific violence, you have to make children aware of this issue at an early stage – also in the context of sex education – and invest in a holistic political approach of “zero tolerance towards violence”. Social movements like #MeToo have proven to be real drivers of change.

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#MeeToo has helped millions of women find the courage to break their silence. For its part, the European Commission is trying to raise awareness of the problem through campaigns such as #SayNoStopVAW or the UN initiative UNiTE. This increased attention to gender-based violence is long overdue and must result in far-reaching changes.

Work with offenders,
Train skilled workers better

Men, too, have to get involved in much larger numbers. We will only change something if everyone contributes to it. It is equally important to work with the perpetrators so that they do not commit violent acts again. It all comes down to the right approach. Offender programs need to provide more information about gender-based violence and its effects, and not limit interventions to medical treatment for substance abuse or mental health problems.

In protecting victims, we need to prevent secondary victimization that stems from a lack of understanding of gender-based violence. Every EU Member State needs to invest more in training professionals, especially judges, police and social workers, so that they can ask the right questions and spot the right clues.

The European Network for the Training of Judges and Public Prosecutors receives € 11 million annually from the EU budget and has a history of seminars on gender-based and domestic violence, sexual exploitation in connection with human trafficking and victim rights in cases of violence against women and Children offered.

Girls always will
harassed more often on the internet

Our understanding of gender-based violence needs to keep pace with new technologies. According to a 2020 survey, 58 percent of girls were harassed online and 50 percent said they were more likely to experience harassment online than on the street – the numbers have continued to rise recently. The pandemic and exit restrictions have shifted our everyday life more into the virtual world and have shown that we also need a safe environment for our digital reality.

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We encounter gender-based violence everywhere – at work, at school, on the street and on the internet. It affects the health and well-being of those affected and limits their opportunities to develop in society. It is not a fixed or integral part of a culture and can be prevented. To eradicate it once and for all, one must first of all recognize it as violence. The European Commission is taking this first step with a legislative proposal to combat and prevent gender-based violence and domestic violence.

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, you too can do your part to combat gender-based violence: Be vigilant and raise the issue in your community. Be clear about this form of violence. We need the support of each and every one of us in order to tackle this evil at its root.

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