HOME     -   Back to  Institutions    -   Back to COE European Council

Back Next   coe - Conseil de l'Europe - Council of Europe - Strasbourg
Back to Institutions 

Violence against women in Europe

Doc. 8667

15 March 2000
Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
Rapporteur: Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group 


Statistics show that every day in Europe one woman in five is a victim of violence and the committee condemns such violence as a general violation of human rights - the right to life, safety, dignity and physical and psychological well-being. It likewise condemns the growing scale of prostitution and traffic in women in Council of Europe member states, the result of international networks whose activities have made this one of the main areas of organised crime.

The committee considers that it is also necessary to take measures to punish all criminal offences committed in the name of tradition or religion.

The Committee of Ministers is urged to draw up a European programme to combat violence against women, with the aim of bringing in legislation on all forms of domestic violence and harmonising law and procedure so as to establish a proper system of European positive law.

In this connection the Assembly invites member states to ratify (if they have not yet done so) and implement the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the protocol to it.

I. Draft recommendation

The Assembly deplores the great increase in the number of women subjected to violence in Council of Europe member states. Every day in Europe one woman in five is a victim of violence.

Hundreds of thousands of women thus face physical and mental violence at home or outside and sometimes the violence is inflicted by the public authorities or by coercive institutions. Oppression of women as manifested in domestic violence, rape and sexual mutilation is thus a reality in many countries that is known and has been denounced.

The Assembly reaffirms the support it gave to the Beijing Platform for Action at the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women, when the different forms of violation of women’s rights were highlighted and forthrightly condemned.

The Assembly notes that although domestic violence is one of the commonest forms of violence against women, it remains the least visible. And yet it is estimated to kill or seriously injure more women in Europe every year than cancer or road accidents and it generates costs, in terms of human and other resources, both to the medical and health services and to employers, the courts and the police.

The Assembly accordingly condemns violence against women as being a general violation of their rights as human beings - the right to life, safety, dignity and physical and psychological well-being.

It utterly deplores that in some member countries there are still murders committed allegedly to preserve honour, forced marriages and other forms of sacrifice, and it underlines the urgency of taking action to punish all criminal acts committed in the name of tradition or religion.

It likewise condemns the growing scale of prostitution and traffic in women in Council of Europe member states, brought about by international networks whose activities have made this one of the main areas of organised crime.

The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers

  • draw up a European programme to combat violence against women, with the aim of a. harmonising law and procedure so as to establish a proper system of European positive law;

b. bringing in legislation on all forms of domestic violence;

c. recognition of the fact of marital rape and making marital rape a criminal offence;

d. greater protection for women, for example by means of orders restraining violent husbands from entering the marital home and measures to enforce penalties and sentences properly;

e. more flexibility as regards both access to justice and availability of various procedures, with provision for ex officio action by the authorities, in camera hearings and court benches made up equally of female and male judges;

  • draw up a European charter of domestic work;
  • invite member states to

a. ratify, if they have not yet done so, and implement the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the protocol to it;

b. step up the role of the European Union Observatory on violence against women;

c. implement the measures advocated in Recommendation 1325 (1997) on trafficking in women and forced prostitution in Council of Europe member states and speedily make substantial funding available for programmes of support and assistance to victims of traffic in humans;

d. introduce training programmes for police officers and judges dealing with women victims of violence;

e. encourage recruitment of female police officers;

f. set up centres for women victims of violence;

g. run information and awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public about the unacceptability of violence towards women and set up preventive initiatives to promote equality-based relations.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Vermot-Mangold



I. Violence

A. Definition of the concept of violence 
B. The origins of violence: a theoretical approach

II. Different forms of violence

A. Domestic violence

i. Facts and statistics
ii. Various approaches to domestic violence
iii. Causes and consequences

B. Rape and sexual assault

i. Definition and overview
ii. The decisive factors in sexual assaults
iii. The consequences

C. Domestic slavery

D. Trafficking in women and prostitution

III. Conclusions: the implementation of action plans

A. Associations and NGOs: an effective on-site presence

B. National policies

C. International co-operation


In preparing this report the Sub-Committee on Violence against Women held a seminar on the subject,  « From Domestic Abuse to Slavery », in Bari (Italy) from 4 to 6 November 1999, with Ms Elisa Pozza Tasca (Italy, LDR) in the Chair.

I. Violence

A. Definition of the concept of violence

Violence is considered to be a general violation of rights possessed by every human being, namely the right to life, to security, to dignity and to physical and psychological well-being.

At the Beijing World Conference on Women, governments committed themselves to instituting a platform for action that would emphasise that violence towards women is an obstacle to the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence was defined in its broadest aspects and includes physical, sexual and psychological violence. This violence takes place both in the context of the family (domestic violence, genital mutilation) and in the context of the society (rape and other forms of sexual aggression, harassment, domestic slavery, trafficking in women and forced prostitution). In some cases, it may also be perpetrated or tolerated by the state (rape in wartime).

In addition to the various forms of violence listed above, we can also speak of structural violence, which is closely related to economic violence and prevents women exercising their fundamental rights. These obstacles are part of the very fabric of society and are self-perpetuating, since they relate to differences, inequalities and power structures that create and legitimise inequality.

The majority of violent acts against women combine physical, sexual and psychological violence, which implies a structural violence that sometimes includes mental and economic aspects.

Violence towards women is a fundamental violation of human rights and should be viewed as a crime. It is important that our societies acknowledge that certain forms of violence are experienced only by women, young women and girls. Some of these forms exist in the majority of cultures (rape, domestic violence, incest) whilst other forms are related to specific contexts (domestic slavery, sexual mutilation).

It is estimated that one European woman in five has experienced violence. However, although the Council's member states are taking an increasing interest in the subject of violence, it remains true that this subject-matter is relatively recent and the majority of countries desperately lack precise statistics in the various areas where violence towards women exists. Thus, it can be concluded that the few results we obtain when carrying out research reflect only the visible tip of an immense iceberg. Also, in order to establish these statistics, this violence must be reported. Yet, for an entire range of reasons, related to fear, shame and limited access to official services, violence is not recorded. In addition, the authorities do not include certain forms of violence, as they do not fit into pre-established definitions or are not viewed as crimes, chiefly because they are taboo subjects.

B. The origins of violence: a theoretical approach

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu explains that, just as women are subject to a socialisation process that moulds their social role, namely a role of subjection, men also experience pressure from their peers to fulfil a dominant role, and to a certain extent they are victims of these pressures. Thus, recourse to violence is a consequence of the relationship of male-female domination that exists in all social spheres. However, while occupying this dominant position, men must constantly prove that they in some way deserve it and must therefore assert their virility. This virility must be validated by other men and generally takes the form of acts of violence or actual tests of virility: joint rapes, initiation ceremonies, visits to brothels, etc. This powerful image of virility disseminated by society creates and legitimises violence against women. Otherwise, how can we explain the fact that many violent men do not recognise their own behaviour as violence? So long as men consider violence towards women as normal or even positive, the phenomenon will continue.

Equally, the majority of studies on this question have shown that women's status and the violence they experience are related to the agencies and institutions that have maintained, validated and even created such a system. The family, the church and education system have fostered relations of domination and violence. Patriarchal values were disseminated by these three key institutions, a fact which has shaped mentalities. Ultimately, each sex is destined for a clear role in society and is "conditioned" accordingly.

Thus, violence towards women is based on relationships of power and domination and the wish to control which stem from social structures that are themselves based on sexual inequality. There is no ambiguity in acts of violence: they are intended to maintain the unequal relationship between men and women and to reinforce women's subordination. Membership of the female sex is at the basis of this violence and the majority of societies tolerate it. Thus, the guilty party is not the person who inflicts injury, but the victim. Some counties even legally recognise men's right to be violent towards women. Culture and tradition perpetuate the principle of male domination.

II. Different forms of violence

A. Domestic violence

i. Facts and statistics

The most common form of violence against women is domestic violence. The various statistics show that a woman is more likely to be attacked and beaten, even killed, by her partner or former partner than by any other person. Depending on the European country concerned, from 20% to more than 50% of women are victims of domestic violence. There is no typical identikit for a violent spouse. Domestic violence affects all sectors of society and all ages.

The various data obtained by the Council of Europe on this matter show clearly that the recorded number of cases of domestic violence has risen over the past decade. Yet this trend must not be interpreted as a real increase in the number of incidents. It seems more probable that women in the 1990s have approached the various public or associative structures for help more frequently.

ii. Various approaches to domestic violence

It has been shown that violence within the home resembles a certain form of torture. As in torture situations, women are physically and psychologically attacked and humiliated in their bodies and minds. As with torture, acts of domestic violence have a long-term effect.

The various forms of brutality that women may experience in the home have serious repercussions on their health, particularly during pregnancy. Some men are even more violent when they learn that their spouse is using contraception. It is clear that sexuality and procreation are among the numerous methods used by men to maintain their power over women and prolong female subordination. Their psychological and physical well-being is seriously threatened in such circumstances. Some women are treated even worse when they are expecting a child, or immediately after giving birth.

Domestic violence takes many forms. It is generally divided into physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and structural violence.

Physical violence is the most visible form, since it often leaves marks. Spouses beat, hit, slap, strangle and use objects as weapons. These actions may be repetitive and unfortunately may have serious consequences: fractures, injuries or even death.

Physical violence inflicted by a partner includes sexual violence and rape. In most of our societies, the sexual act is still viewed as a duty that a woman owes her husband. Any sexual act imposed by force constitutes violence. Touching and other approaches must be considered as crimes if the person concerned has not given her consent. Women may be subjected to sexual relations against their will, may be ill-treated during these relations, and may be raped by their spouses. On the other hand, husbands may deprive their wives of sexual relations as a form of punishment or simply to control them. Spouses may also subject their wives to sexual harassment of various kinds. Unfortunately, many countries do not consider violent sexual relations within a couple as rape in the criminal sense. Only a few countries have begun to recognise marital rape as a crime, whilst others still consider that husbands are entitled to unlimited sexual access to their wives.

Psychological violence within a couple is just as intolerable for the woman who experiences it and, since unfortunately it is most often hidden, it is also most difficult to detect. Indeed, the verbal attacks, humiliation, threats, repeated harassment, imprisonment and deprivation of all economic resources may be more harmful than physical attacks, as they seriously disturb women's psychological balance. Women lose all self-confidence and consequently have difficulty in taking charge of their lives.

Structural violence is often under-estimated, since it is less obvious and less direct than physical violence. It is defined as any situation where a woman is disadvantaged solely on account of the fact of her sex, particularly when she is deprived of her most basic rights, such as the freedom to exercise a profession, to have a bank account of her own, etc. These inequalities engender and encourage male violence towards women.

iii. Causes and consequences

The cause of violence against women within the family home is related to cultural structures and to a traditional and sex-based distribution of labour. The majority of men consider it normal to take the most important position and do not wish to see this arrangement called into question. Some go further, viewing this wish for superiority as a right. For them, violence is just another method of determining the distribution of tasks within the home. Violent men believe that it is totally legitimate to dominate their wives, to force them to do or not to do certain things, and to oblige them to behave in a certain way.

Domestic violence was for many years considered as a private affair in which the state and the justice system had no business interfering. Yet, since domestic violence violates the physical and psychological well-being of the women concerned, it is a direct attack on human rights and therefore a criminal offence.

However, for several reasons, it is not easy for battered women to leave their husband or partner. Firstly, paradoxical as it may seem, they love their partners. They do not love violent situations. In addition, they experience considerable pressure from their immediate circle: from their partners in the first place, who, once the crisis has passed, promise not to start again or threaten them with reprisals, against the women, themselves (suicide) or the children. In certain cases, there is pressure from the rest of the family. Moving away also means leaving everything behind and starting a new life elsewhere. This presupposes financial resources as well as help and support from outside the home. Psychological factors of fear and shame also make running away difficult. Finally, it must be pointed out that it is unjust that it should be the woman, the victim, who leaves her home, while the husband is not harried on account of his violent behaviour and in many countries is still not obliged to answer for it before the courts.

The Council's member states and governments must therefore respond by introducing specific measures.

A first step would be to ask all member states to pass laws making marital rape a criminal offence. Simplified judicial procedures should be available to victims and provision should be made for them to be heard by suitably trained staff. Lastly, with the help of community organisations, steps must be taken to set up refuges and day centres where such women would be able above all to receive psychological help.

I would also draw attention to the seriousness and frequency of sexual harassment in the workplace. It takes both physical and mental forms, very often causing depression and ending in the victim’s resigning her post and incurring all the consequences of that.

B. Rape and sexual assault

i. Definition and overview

Sexual assault is an act of domination, humiliation and violence. Whether we refer to incest, sexual abuse, rape or harassment, sexual assault occurs when a sexual gesture is imposed, by intimidation, threat, blackmail or verbal or physical violence. It should also be noted that certain words, whistles or glances may also be aggressive. It is obvious that sexual aggression is a form of behaviour intended to harm another person. It is a criminal act that covers actions ranging from unwanted sexual touching to sexual attacks that injure or maim the victim or put her life in danger.

Most statistics in this field show that this form of violence is not connected to a specific category of victim, but that it affects all social classes, regardless of age, physical appearance or racial origin.

One woman in five is subjected to sexual assault at some stage and, unfortunately, the age of the victims varies from two months to 90 years. The figures tell of increasing numbers of assault against very young girls. 98% of aggressors are male, and 50% are married or living in a de facto marriage or as a couple. Furthermore, 70% of rapes are premeditated and only 3% of aggressors are mentally unbalanced. One might also note the growing phenomenon of multiple rape.

ii. The decisive factors in sexual assaults

Research on assailants has resulted in several hypotheses to explain these acts of violence.

Firstly, certain assailants need to prove that they are able to charm, or demonstrate their strength and ability to control another person. The assailant often suffers from a power complex. He identifies with the stereotypes that require men to be aggressive and virile and women to be subordinate and gentle. Thus, we return again to the dominant-dominated paradigm where sexual assault is a means for men to maintain power over women and humiliate them. The socialisation of sexual roles plays an large role in violent relationships. The stereotypes of male and female sexuality serve to justify acts of sexual violence and to place the blame with the victim (who provokes the man by her attitude and clothing…). This attitude is very common, but the assailant alone is responsible for his actions. Under no circumstances may "no" be taken to mean "yes": women never wish to be assaulted.

In addition, education plays an important role in incidents of sexual assault. Assailants tend to identify excessively with their sexual roles. The majority firmly believe that sexually provocative women seduce men by exciting them sexually and forcing them to demonstrate their domination.

Although drugs and alcohol play an undeniable part in incidents of assault, they cannot under any circumstances justify the assailant's lack of self-control. As well as consuming drugs or alcohol himself, the assailant may also drug his victim. This drug use is doubly harmful, since the woman cannot defend herself and, in a semi-conscious state, may not be able to remember the details that would make her complaint credible and admissible.

Victims often feel trapped and are terrorised when faced with a man, usually known to them (almost 75% of cases), who suddenly becomes uncontrollable. In most instances, these assailants are friends or part of their circle of acquaintances. They are people whom the victim has already met or knows by sight, colleagues, etc. Furthermore, a high proportion of these rapes (20%) are carried out by persons in a position of authority: the victim's boss, doctor or landlord. In these situations, it is more difficult for the victim to be listened to as she is often blackmailed. This merely substantiates the argument that, beyond the sexual dimension, acts of violence are primarily instruments for male domination over women.

The majority of rapes are committed in the home of the rapist or of his victim, or somewhere in the building. The other most frequent location is the workplace. In public areas, rape takes place most frequently around the doorways of night-clubs. It might also be noted that increasing numbers of assaults are carried out in institutions or medical establishments, where the victims are in an even more vulnerable situation.

iii. The consequences

Unfortunately, only one rape in ten is reported and the victims do not wish to lodge a complaint because they are not sufficiently informed about the police and judicial system, because they are intimidated by the complexities of these systems, or because they are afraid of reprisals. This silence serves only to protect the assailants.

Some women may become pregnant after a rape and are not always able to resort to an abortion, either because this is forbidden by law, because it is financially impossible, or because religious or social norms make it unacceptable. An additional factor is then added to her trauma, since she will have a permanent reminder of the aggression. In order to escape this situation, some rape victims attempt to commit suicide, others are placed in psychiatric hospitals and the majority undergo psychotherapy.

In most cases, they suffer strong feelings of shame. Many women do not manage to move beyond the feeling of victimisation and are unable to act on their own. Rape destroys a woman's - and a couple's - life. Rape victims are marked for life and their daily lives become more difficult. Moreover, victims will at some point experience sexual problems.

Just as in the case of domestic violence, governments and the Council's member states must introduce measures aimed especially at simplifying judicial procedures for victims and ensuring that they are heard by specially trained staff.

C. Domestic slavery

Statistics on this issue are very rare, since the victims, frequently illegal immigrants who are hidden away by their exploiters, rarely make themselves known. It is nonetheless true that this phenomenon does in fact exist in proportions that are as yet impossible to ascertain.

National anti-slavery associations which co-operate at European level have identified the criteria required in order to be able to describe a situation as slavery. In particular, it is noted that the employer systematically confiscates identity papers. The girl has nowhere to turn and is afraid of deportation if she contacts the police. She cannot claim her rights if she is unaware of them.

In addition, the working conditions violate human dignity: 15-21 hours of work per day, 7 days a week, without leave and without remuneration, or with a derisory salary. Accommodation conditions are often deplorable and these girls most often sleep directly on the floor.

These persons are sequestrated, either physically, by forbidding them to leave the house and locking them inside, or by training them psychologically about the "dangers" in the outside world, mainly with regard to their illegal status.

Most employers ensure that all the victim's family ties are broken, or apply pressure on the family left behind.

Cultural isolation has also been identified as a criterion, in that that majority of girls who arrive in western European countries do not usually know the language and are disoriented. It is all the more difficult for them to seek help in these circumstances.

The girls, who are usually recruited while they are underage, enter employment with serving diplomats in European countries. These persons enjoy diplomatic immunity and it is difficult to charge them. Some employers are also important figures in their country of origin, or know important figures, which means that they enjoy relatively secure protection that the exploited girl, her family, or even certain authorities are unable to challenge.

Situations also arise where the girls are exploited by their own compatriots who have emigrated to a European country. These people are not necessarily better off, but they take advantage of someone who is weaker than themselves.

This new form of violence, which has just come to light, could be eliminated first by introducing a code of good conduct for diplomats, then by making it possible to request the lifting of diplomatic immunity for those who engage in this kind of exploitation while above the law.

D. Trafficking in women and prostitution

In its recommendation 1325 (1997), the Council of Europe defined trafficking in women and forced prostitution as any legal or illegal transporting of women and/or trade in them, with or without their initial consent, for economic gain, with the purpose of subsequent forced prostitution, forced marriage, or other forms of forced sexual exploitation. The use of force may be physical, sexual and/or psychological, and includes intimidation, rape, abuse of authority or a situation of dependence.

Over the last decade, Europe has opened its borders and created new opportunities for the circulation of individuals. New migratory flows have developed, particularly from the countries of eastern Europe towards the west. Poor economic and social situations encourage migration. There is a strong temptation to leave and earn money more easily elsewhere, and many young women fall into the trap of exploitative networks. One of the most common features of these networks is trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

There are three main characteristics to trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution: the creation of networks, the movement of the women from one place to another, and the almost constant violence.

The creation of networks is facilitated by the diaspora of certain communities in western Europe. In particular, the Albanians and the Russians have set up enough networks of contacts across several countries to be able to organise large-scale trafficking. Through these networks, the girls are moved from one town to another and from one country to another.

The trend in this area identified since the beginning of the 1990s by the International Office for Migration shows that the vast majority of trafficking in Europe concerns girls from central and eastern European countries being sent to the countries of the European Union, where the opening up of borders facilitates the movements of traffickers.

Date provided by Interpol shows that most of the women affected by such activities come from Europe: central Europe (39%), eastern Europe (22%) and the Balkans (17%). Other young women come from Africa or South America, but to a lesser degree. With regard to their destinations, it has been detected that the trafficking in women from the Czech and Slovak republics, Poland, Hungary and Romania is channelled mainly towards the pavements of Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Finland. Young Bulgarian, Albanian and Serb women are to be found in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. Young girls from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova are in Germany, France, Belgium and Finland. 80% of the prostitutes in Amsterdam are foreigners and 70% have no papers.

This trafficking in human beings is often accompanied by other forms of trafficking: false papers or methods of transport, such as stolen cars. In fact, the trafficking in girls frequently begins in the poorest countries, since the women there are more vulnerable and there is no need for major "investment". On the other hand, the profits are considerable and act as a trampoline to other forms of trafficking. For example, the new profits enable investment in drug trafficking.

Recruitment takes place by various methods. The majority of young immigrant women are deceived by false promises of marriage, employment, etc. A Europol investigation states that only a third of the women know what lies ahead in the destination country. As soon as they leave their country of origin, their papers are removed and they are looked after by the network until their final destination. They are then bound to their pimp through a long-term debt contract, which is meant to reimburse transport, visa, accommodation and other costs. There is no way out for these girls, who are under constant surveillance. Some are kidnapped, whilst others know perfectly well what they are letting themselves in for.

They do not report what is going on for several reasons: they are illegal immigrants without the relevant papers, and are afraid of the police. Some often have false passports from countries that are at war, since the majority of western European states do not deport nationals of such countries. Further, the young women do not report what is going on because they are afraid of reprisals against themselves and their families. The violence inflicted on these women as a means of exerting pressure is particularly deplorable since, as well as the sexual violence imposed on them, some are beaten, tortured or even killed if they do not bring back their earnings and reimburse their debt. Some women have even been sent to "training camps" in Italy, where they must accept 50-60 clients per day. Finally, pressure may also be exerted with regard to the young woman's family.

However, it is clear that this traffic would be smaller if the majority of European countries had stricter laws on prostitution. Countries such as the Netherlands have chosen to treat prostitution as a lesser evil and consequently to liberalise the sex trade. Naturally, this approach leaves the door open to every kind of mafia, for whom trafficking is extremely profitable. The human body becomes an object for transactions that infringe the universal principle which considers the body as inviolate. Sex becomes a consumer service and may be the subject-matter of agreements, and procuring becomes an economic activity like any other. The majority of young women involved in this trafficking have not given their consent to such arrangements and receive no payment for their "services". Rather than "willing consent to one's own exploitation", the situation is one of constraint.

It should also be pointed out that in the absence of international agreements, victims of prostitution cannot be returned to their country of origin. For this reason, in addition to the need for stricter legislation in this field, it would appear essential that as much information as possible on the criminals involved in this trafficking be made available to specialised police forces.

Consequently, one of the first steps which governments must take is to launch an information campaign for immigrants on the law in the host country. They must also draft legislation offering legal protection for immigrant women who are victims of prostitution.

III. Conclusions: the implementation of action plans

A. Associations and NGOs: an effective on-site presence

It is society at large that determines the limits of the social space granted to women within a network of values and standards. Society is not entirely under state control, but is an area where a multitude of private and voluntary organisations, with an influence on women's lives, operate. Associations are very active on the ground in assisting the victims of violence. They are generally the first to receive reports of violence and to register the extent of the problem.

It is to associations and NGOs that women who have been victims of violence will turn. By their presence on the ground, they can directly assess the consequences of violent acts and provide data.

Of the main activities carried out by these organisations, the first is to allow women who have suffered violence to have their say. A listening network is often established, up with telephone hotlines and/or a reception centre where the victims can find immediate support, whether psychological or practical. They are also informed about the steps that they can take and may receive legal advice. These associations also play a major role in raising awareness of the problems of violence in the member States, and disseminate information to increase public awareness of the fact that violence has its roots in the inequality between women and men. Finally, these associations and NGOs co-operate widely with state structures, especially in training professionals who are concerned by the problems of violence: health services, police, etc.

For this reason, voluntary organisations should receive more financial assistance from the States and from international institutions. They should also be more systematically involved with the activities of the judicial and judicial services.

B. National policies

The state also plays an essential role in the fight against violence towards women.

Unfortunately, the majority of Council of Europe member States do not yet have precise statistical data so as to assess the extent and social weight of violent acts committed towards women. In most cases, states use the data provided by associations and base their policies for fighting violence mainly on this information. It is thus essential to calculate the effects of violence. It is regrettable that the large national or European statistical agencies, such as EUROSTAT, do not have more figures on this matter. In the absence of statistical back-up, how can the needs be evaluated, effective policies be implemented or their impact checked?

However, it should be noted that since the Peking and Cairo Conferences, states are increasingly involved in implementing policies to take account of violent situations and their consequences, and have instructed the relevant ministries and departments to take action in this field. Most have set up inter-ministerial or inter-institutional structures that are responsible for issues related to equal opportunities and particularly for the problems of violence.

At the legislative level, it is the state's responsibility to check whether existing laws are being correctly applied, and to introduce the relevant legislation if it is missing. Governments are becoming increasingly involved in the various areas of professional activity and encouraging the creation of public facilities that make it easier for women to have access to aid agencies.

However, priorities vary from one country to another, mainly depending on how women are viewed in the society concerned. It is difficult to implement effective policies to fight violence if public awareness has not been raised regarding the issue of equality between women and men.

In all instances of violence, the fundamental principle with regard to justice must be the entitlement of women and children to protection. Laws and regulations should be applied more strictly and systematically in national territories and should be coherent at European level. Thus, employees of the justice system should be specially trained or even specialised in these problems. In addition, police and juridical co-operation should be more effective, so that crimes do not go unpunished, thus encouraging recidivism. Victims of violence should receive specific financial help to enable them to "rebuild" their lives after this kind of trauma.

Education is a key element in the fight against violence towards women and girls. It is provided in the family and by educational structures and the media. Thus, if we wish to alter the sexist perspective that predominates in exchanges between men and women, and particularly if we wish to put an end to violence, it is up to the organisations responsible for education and training to change track and spread the principle of zero tolerance for violence. Everything should be done to prevent the propagation of sexist stereotypes. What is being recommended here is a fundamental shift in mentalities, which should eventually lead to the disappearance of forms of violence that are based on a person's sex. The Council of Europe member States should be able to set up large-scale information and awareness-raising campaigns about this problem, so that it no longer remains a taboo.

Turning to the activities of the police and justice systems, there should be special procedures to deal with acts of violence towards women. This denotes simplifying the procedures for testimony, making statements, collecting evidence, etc. Increasing numbers of special units are being created to respond to these problems, and their staff are trained and alerted to acts of violence. However, a principle of Zero Tolerance could be introduced, which would provide for immediate punishment for the perpetrators of violence. Thus, it would no longer be enough to "calm down" men who are beating their wives, but to have a more intransigent approach to such persons.

C. International co-operation

The Council of Europe has taken the initiative on several occasions, through various reports and inter-governmental conferences, in encouraging member States to regard the elimination of violence as a priority. It has already urged them to co-operate and adopt common objectives at European level.

As regards trafficking in women and forced prostitution, protection and action against these forms of violence cannot be correctly applied unless there is a precise definition of the legislative frameworks governing prostitution: making it a criminal offence, control, decriminalisation and legislation. The Council of Europe states all have different views regarding the attitude to be adopted towards prostitution and procuring. These misgivings and differences in treatment according to the country benefit trafficking. It is therefore necessary to harmonise legislation in European countries and particularly in the "host" countries for trafficking. As for the countries of origin, concerted action must be taken in co-operation with the forces of Interpol and Europol to disband the networks and warn young women. Unfortunately, border checks are not very effective, since, in the majority of cases, the young women enter the host countries perfectly legally, and it is only once they arrive that they are deprived of all their rights. At the same time, it is necessary to relax the conditions of residence for women who have been victims of trafficking (eg, they will not be deported if they come forward), to grant them access to assistance and to public and juridical services, and to enable them to take part in court proceedings against their "employers". This action against trafficking in women also implies a fight against the mafia and the underground economy.

Reporting committee: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men

Reference to committee: Doc 8238 and Reference No. 2342 of 4 November 1998

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

Draft recommendation adopted by the committee on 29 February 2000 with 16 votes in favour and 1 vote against.

Members of the committee: Mrs Roudy (Chairperson), Mrs Busic, Mrs Poptodorova, Mrs Keltosova (Vice-Chairpersons), Mrs Aguiar, Mr Anusz, Mr Browne (alternate: Mr Connor), Ms Calner, Ms Cryer, Mrs Dade, Mrs Dromberg, Mrs Err, Mr Felici, Mrs Frimannsdóttir, Mrs Gatterer, Ms Gülek, Mr Hadjidemetriou, Ms Herczog, Mr Jakic, Ms Jones, Mrs Katseli, Mr Kofod-Svendsen, Ms Kulbaka, Mr Kurykin, Mrs Laternser, Ms Lörcher, Mrs Nagy, Ms Ninoshvili, Mrs Paegle, Mrs Paleckova, Mr Popovski, Mrs Pozza Tasca, Mrs Pulgar (alternate: Mrs Calleja), Mr Pullicino Orlando, Mrs Ringstad, Mrs Serafini (alternate: Mr Risari), Mr Sobyanin, Mrs Stanoiu, Mrs Süssmuth, Mr Truu, Mrs Zapfl-Helbling (alternate: Mrs Vermot-Mangold), Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of the members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretary of the committee: Mrs Nollinger 

Back Up Next   coe - Conseil de l'Europe - Council of Europe - Strasbourg