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Gender-based violence can be defined as “violence directed against a person because of that person’s gender, gender identity or gender expression, or which affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately.” – European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)

Gender-based violence includes: domestic violence, sexual violence, forced marriage and honour-based violence, and female genital mutilation.

Domestic violence can be defined as “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit, irrespective of biological or legal family ties, or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence as the victim.” – Council of Europe (2011). Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Council of Europe Treaty Series No 210.

Sexual violence can be defined as “any sexual act performed on the victim without consent. Acts of sexual violence attack the right to sexual freedom, autonomy, control, integrity, and security, as well as the right to experience pleasure and to have a healthy, safe, and satisfying sexual life. These rights are intimately related to reproductive rights, such as the freedom and autonomy to decide when to have children, how many children to have, and which contraceptive to use. Examples of sexual violence include, but are not limited to, date rape and marital rape.” – EIGE

Forced marriages are marriages in which one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. Child marriage, or early marriage, is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age. A child marriage is considered to be a form of forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties have not expressed full, free and informed consent.

There is no specific definition for honour-based crime; however, the term ‘honour crime’ usually infers violence in some form against the victim, normally, but not always, a female.  The common factor is the motivation of those carrying out the violence, punishment for a perceived loss of family or personal ‘honour’.  The perpetrators are family or community members and the victim is punished according to ideas of culturally acceptable behaviour: abduction, mutilation, beating, acid attacks, or even death.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) can be defined as a “all procedures involving the removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” – End FGM European Network

While FGM is not prescribed by any religion and has no health benefits – but can cause life-long physical and psychological trauma – girls between birth and 15 years of age are subjected to this procedure.  It is estimated that out of a global population of at least 200 million girls and women, who have undergone FGM, there are over 600.000 FGM survivors in Europe living with its effects.  An estimated additional 68 million girls, worldwide, face being cut by 2030.

The European Commission defines gender-based violence as “violence directed against a person because of that person’s gender or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately. Violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in:

  • Physical harm,
  • Sexual harm,
  • Psychological,
  • Or economic harm
  • Or suffering to women.

It can include violence against women, domestic violence against women, men or children living in the same domestic unit. Although women and girls are the main victims of GBV, it also causes severe harm to families and communities.”

Victims’ rights in the EU are established under The Victim’s Rights Directive. The directive sets out the 6 key rights available to all victims of all types of crime that take place in any member state.  The following link will allow you to familiarize yourself with your rights as a victim of crime:

The EU does not currently have one specific legal mechanism designed to protect women from violence. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, a framework of legal and policy measures for preventing violence against women and domestic violence, has been signed but not yet ratified by the EU. However, the EU has created a range of legal measures in which women can be acknowledged as victims of violence, and where there is violence that has a cross-border element:

  • Equality and non-discrimination, which includes a ban on sexual harassment:
    • Directive 2006/54/EC, concerning equal treatment as regards access to employment and working conditions;
    • Directive 2010/41/EU on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity;
    • Directive 2004/113/EC on equal treatment in the access to and supply of goods and services.
  • Trafficking in human beings:
  • Protecting victims by strengthening victims’ rights, independent of their nationality, wherever the crime takes place in the EU, including if the victims travel or move within the EU:
    • Directive 2012/29/EU on the rights and protection of victims of crime – with an emphasis on access to specialised support for women and children, who have been victims of different forms of violence. EU countries are, for example, required to provide access to shelters for domestic violence victims and emergency support for victims of sexual violence. It includes an individual assessment mechanism to assess protection measures for particularly vulnerable victims during criminal proceedings;
    • Directive 2011/99/EU on the European protection order in criminal matters;
    • Regulation (EU) No 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters – restraining or barring orders issued in one EU country are recognised in another country with a minimum of bureaucracy. Victims can move across borders without losing legal protection.

These instruments are important tools to prevent violence against women.

Member states each have their own legal code that will apply to gender-based crimes.  Punishment, whether custodial or financial, will depend on the severity of the crime and on the outcome of any court case.  However, all victims of crime in Europe are entitled to compensation and restitution under the Victim’s Rights Directive.  To find out more about the legislation concerning gender-based violence, contact your local victim support service.

FGM is a crime in all EU Member States, whether through specific criminal provisions against FGM or general criminal provisions that prohibit violence, acts against bodily integrity, assault, harm and the like.

Gender-based crime can take place anywhere, at any time.  As women are often the target of the crime, most can be classified as domestic abuse victims – this includes women subjected to forced marriages, honour-based violence, and FGM.  However, we should not forget that boys and even men can also be victims of gender-based attacks, especially online or on social media.

It may be difficult to recognise that you are subject to a gender-based crime and can be even more difficult to be able to protect yourself from it.  You should firstly ask yourself whether your relationship with those around you is mutually respectful or are you intimidated or controlled in some way – psychologically, financially or physically?  How do you know if you’re feeling unsafe?

Here are some signs that you may be a victim of a gender-based crime:

  • They make threats and do things just to scare me, they hit, slap, or push me.
  • They put me down just to make me feel bad when we’re alone or around friends.
  • They make me do things that I don’t want to do without listening to me.
  • They call me names, shout at me and destroy my belongings.
  • They try to isolate me from my friends or family and make me feel guilty if I don’t spend time with them.
  • They look through my phone, social media or web history.
  • They want to know where I am all the time and who I’m with.
  • They cheat on me or accuse me of cheating on them.
  • They steal from me or make me buy them things.
  • They make me have sex when I don’t want to.


If you recognise any of these behaviours you should be alert, prepared and educated.  Create a safety plan to include:

  • Knowing when your abuser is getting upset – identify a safe area to go to, avoiding small spaces, rooms with weapons, and rooms without exits.
  • Create a code word to let loved ones or friends know you’re in danger and have believable reasons to leave your home to avoid abuse day or night.
  • Build a support system including your family, friends, and colleagues, make and memorize a list of emergency contacts.
  • Keep gas in your car, driver door unlocked, and hide the spare key somewhere you can quickly access it.
  • Be ready for emergencies and know where to run.
  • Remember to use a prepaid phone so numbers can’t be traced, using a computer outside your home, change your passwords frequently.
  • Get help and support, get a restraining order, and consider counselling.

Being a victim of a gender-based crime, whether verbal or physical, will leave you feeling vulnerable and emotionally distressed.  If you have been physically injured, you will have to cope with the additional concerns of your wounds and receiving treatment.  It may be hard to come to terms with what has happened, and you may have problems coping.  Whether or not you knew your attacker, you will question why you were attacked and how you could have prevented the situation, you will question your actions before, during and after the event – your questions can be overwhelming and cause you to withdraw from family, friends and those who can assist you.


Being a victim of assault is an emotional experience, you will be stressed and worried about your personal safety.  It is important to reach out for help: there are many organizations ready to support you when you are ready to ask for assistance. Victim Support offers free, confidential advice and help to all crime victims and its staff will work with you in the aftermath of your attack.

Many victims of gender-related crimes – domestic or sexual violence, honour-bassed violence or FGM – may be afraid of reprisals, they may feel the attack was their fault, they may fear going to the police, or they may not know how to make the report.  However, it is important that such assaults are reported as soon as possible as this will assist the police in apprehending your attacker.

You should contact the police either by phone or in person.  If the crime is under way, you should use the emergency number, otherwise use the non-emergency number to file your complaint.  If you decide not to report the crime immediately, you can do so later – contact your local Victim Support organization for assistance.

You will need to give details of the assault, such as:

  • Date, time, place of the attack
  • Who carried out the attack
  • What was your response
  • What happened during the attack
  • Were you injured, if so did you go to the hospital or see a doctor
  • Was property stolen from you
  • Were there any witnesses, who were they


You will be given a crime report number and a police investigator will be allocated your complaint.  The officer will handle the progress of your file up to and including the trial stage, assuming your attacker is apprehended and brought to justice.  You will be expected to provide statements detailing the assault and its effect on you, these will be used at any trial that takes place.  You will be informed of your rights as a victim and you will be told what to expect if your case is brought before a jury.  Importantly, you have the right to legal assistance in all EU member states and the right to an interpreter if the trial takes place outside your own country.

Protecting yourself or female friends or relatives and reporting cases of FGM differ from one country to another, depending on the country’s national policy and legal framework. Most EU Member States have child protection procedures in place, ensuring the prevention of FGM and the protection of girls at risk. These vary from making parents, of a girl at risk, sign a Statement opposing FGM before travelling (available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Germany) and carrying out medical checks once the girl is back; to requesting an FGM Protection Order (available in the UK). In some countries, there are hotlines available for girls to call in case they feel at risk (available in Germany, France, the UK and Italy). In France, there are regular medical checks on girls between 0 and 6 years, as well as medical checks every 5 years for refugees who were granted asylum based on the fear of undergoing FGM, to ensure that they are kept safe from the practice. In the Netherlands, there is a system called the Chain Approach, which ensures that all services and levels of government are connected to ensure protection from FGM for women and girls. In Belgium, the Concerted Strategies on FGM developed a risk assessment tool that helps professionals identify the risk for a girl of undergoing FGM and provide key steps for protection.

If you have been affected by gender-based violence, there are a number of ways you can contact support services to get assistance or information.

  1. Get support locally. Contact your Victim Support team
  2. Call 116 006, the telephone number for helplines for victim support. This number is available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden.

The 116 006 helps victims of crime by informing them of their rights and how to use these, offering emotional support, while also referring victims to relevant organisations. As a single access point, it will provide information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, possibilities for compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime.

Watch Victoire’s story, victim of domestic violence.

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