The Ecuropean Union Agency for Fundamental Rights deserves great credit for revealing the scale of violence and abuse against women in the advanced societies of Europe. The organisation’s survey reveals, for example, that one woman in 20 has been raped, and that a third have suffered physical or sexual violence at some point since the age of 15. Such insights indicate a depressing state of affairs in a continent that regards itself as civilised. And as technology has advanced, so, unfortunately, has the abuse. Thus, around one woman in 10 has experienced inappropriate advances on social media, or been subjected to sexually explicit emails or text messages.
Just as the violence starts in childhood, so do some of the answers. So-called “cyber bullying” and “sexting” are new phenomena that essentially represent learning experiences for children and young people – a critical stage in their moral development where even extreme attitudes and behaviour can come to be seen as normal. Schools and parents bear a special responsibility to monitor children’s use of social media, and to make an appropriate response when cruelty is discovered. Such activities should be treated on a par with physical violence, and, indeed, as aspects of the trade in child sex abuse images, which is what they all too often amount to.
But it is not only children who are suffering violence and intimidation. In adulthood, the law is lacking when it comes to psychological violence against women. This is difficult enough to define, let alone prove, but that should not deter the Home Secretary and minister for women, Theresa May, from looking again at incorporating psychological violence and bullying into legislation. Of course, many a couple say unkind things to one another; but a systematic pattern of long-term psychological abuse is just as scarring as any beating, and recourse under the law should be available.
Not so long ago, Ms May said that “no level” of violence against women was acceptable. She was right. But this latest report confirms just how far we have to travel before that aim is within reach.
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