Rape must be included in EU rules to combat violence against women 

Press Releases 

On Wednesday, following a meeting with Council and Commission negotiators, Parliament’s lead MEPs on a new law to combat violence against women issued the following statement.

“We express our deep disappointment and outrage on behalf of the citizens of the European Union at the Council’s unwillingness to include the crime of rape based on lack of consent in the legislation.

This is an untenable position that the women of Europe will not accept. We cannot have a situation where different minimum standards of justice apply to women across the European Union if we are really seeking to achieve one of our founding principles: equality between women and men. To quote the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, There can be no true equality without freedom from violence’.

Some member states have expressed concern as to the legal basis to include the crime of consent-based rape legislation, yet we in the European Parliament and the European Commission are united and confident that the legal basis of ‘sexual exploitation’ includes rape.

The term ‘sexual exploitation’ was originally included in the Treaty as a legal basis to combat human trafficking. However, it cannot be understood only as a specific element of the offence of trafficking, because Article 83 (1) itself refers to areas of crime. The Council’s own legal advice points out that this basis has already been used for a piece of legislation unrelated to trafficking: the Child Sexual Abuse Directive. While acknowledging children’s unique vulnerability, it would still be legally incorrect to say that there is no legal basis to legislate in this area at European level - clearly there is. Member states are therefore making a political choice not to include rape in the Directive.

Further, the inclusion of rape in the definition of sexual exploitation is a legal concept that already exists at both international and national level. The UN Glossary on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse defines sexual exploitation as ‘any actual or attempted abuse of position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another’.

According to the Council’s legal advice, the notion of ‘sexual exploitation’ is characterised by ‘a component of essentially exploitative nature related, in particular, to taking unjust advantage of a sexual activity imposed upon a person in a vulnerable situation’. The key element seems to be the victim’s vulnerability, which is precisely one of the elements of the offence of rape: it is because of their vulnerability that the victim is subjected to a sexual act without having given their consent to it freely [that the will of the victim is overcome].

A situation of vulnerability might result from specific circumstances, such as the use of coercion, force or threat, the victim’s dependence on the perpetrator, but it might also result from the structural discrimination that women face due to unequal powers relations between men and women.

There are multiple definitions of rape within the European Union; yet murder, another of the most serious crimes, is universally understood as intentionally taking the life of another. How can we justify this differentiation when it comes to rape?

We once again call on the Council to reconsider their position, and to include the crime of rape based on lack of consent in Article 5 of the Directive.

In the EU, we condemn rape when it is used as crime of war - we must also be consistent and clear when it comes dealing with this crime during peacetime.”

Frances Fitzgerald (EPP, Ireland)

Evin Incir (S&D, Sweden)

Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé (EPP, France)

Pina Picierno (S&D, Italy)

Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová (Renew, Slovakia)

María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos (Renew, Spain)

Sylwia Spurek (Greens/EFA, Poland)

Diana Riba i Giner (Greens/EFA, Spain)

Assita Kanko (ECR, Belgium)

Malin Björk (The Left, Sweden)

Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (The Left, Spain)