Picierno: "Sexual harassment is more widespread than anyone imagined"

Parliament is calling for EU rules to tackle mobbing and sexual harassment both online and offline. Read our interview with the lead MEP to find out more about the measures being proposed

Pina Picierno

On 11 September, MEPs adopted an own-initiative report on measures to combat mobbing and sexual harassment in the EU. The report will now be forwarded to the European Commission for consideration. To find out more about the proposals, we talked to report author Pina Picierno, an Italian member of the S&D group.

Sexual harassment has been in the spotlight ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted. How widespread is the problem in the EU and why is a common EU approach needed?

The #metoo movement showed us that the problem is more widespread than anyone imagined, although data hints at the scale of the problem: 55% of women in the EU have been sexually harassed and more than 20% of young women [between the ages of 18 and 29] in the EU have experienced cyber stalking or cyber harassment at least once.

Considering that most women and girls do not report harassment, the real numbers are actually much higher. This is why we need a European approach. We need a clear definition of harassment. Without an EU-wide definition, it will be very difficult to eradicate this problem, as perceptions vary. Once we have established what [sexual] harassment is and what it is not, we can better tackle the problem and support victims.

Sexual harassment often goes unreported. What do you see as the main barriers and solutions?

Most of the time women and girls are afraid to denounce violence. They may feel ashamed or are afraid they will be blamed or, as much sexual harassment happens in the workplace, are afraid of losing their job or being penalised.

One solution is to intensify training for the police and judicial authorities, as well as developing secure and independent procedures at work and in universities and schools, so that women can more easily report cases of violence or mobbing.

The internet, including social networks and online forums, creates possibilities for harassment and violence. What measures are you proposing to combat online harassment?

We need a clear legal definition of what constitutes a public space in order to include virtual spaces such as social networks, blogs, chats and so on, where harassment and stalking take place. That will make it easier for the authorities to prosecute perpetrators and help victims.

Revenge porn, the distribution of explicit material without the individual’s consent, has terrible psychological consequences including, in the most extreme cases, suicide. That is why I am proposing including a pilot project for an easily accessible online help desk in the next EU budget, to provide support to any girl or woman suffering from online stalking, sexual harassment or revenge porn.

We also call on the Commission to expand the definition of illegal hate speech, online and off, to include misogyny.

Finally, in the report we also ask for a thorough, systematic collection of relevant, gender- and age-disaggregated, comparable data on harassment, in order to have a clear view on its evolution.

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