EUCAP Statement on the Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence

The provisional deal on the Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence is a historic moment for the protection of women and girls against violence across the European Union, which had the objective to define criminal offenses and EU requirements for victim support, while filling the gaps in European legislation to fit international standards such as the Istanbul Convention and the CRPD. However, we are deeply disappointed to know the Directive fell short of the promises and potential to protect autistic and disabled women in Europe.

The Directive was approved after the removal of:

        The criminalisation of forced sterilisation;

        A consent-based definition of rape (‘yes means yes’ approach)1

        Definition of sexual harassment at work.

Forced sterilisation impacts autistic women and girls and with learning disabilities disproportionally, and it is a violation of the human rights and international standards that the Directive wished to fulfil. The legislation in thirteen countries still allows this practice (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia), with three countries still allowing it for minors with disabilities (Portugal, Czechia, and Hungary). Allowing the practice of forced sterilisation to continue shows an upholding of eugenic practices that devalue disabled bodies and lives, a position we condemn.2

In the EUCAP project on experiences of violence, one in three of autistic women who responded to the survey reported being raped, suggesting that the overall incidence may be higher than the one in 20 women overall in Europe reported in other studies. There were several reports of struggling to deny or revoke consent during sexual encounters, and getting overwhelmed and dissociated, making it difficult to prove sexual violence under a ‘no means no’ legislation. Considering the several barriers to the diagnosis of Autism in women and girls, with 91% of women in our study being diagnosed after the age of 18, we worry that the substitution of a consent-based definition for a ‘no means no’ definition could further victimise autistic women and girls, especially those without a diagnosis, and make it harder for them to seek justice.

We applaud some of the approved points in the directive to support women and girls with a disability, such as accessibility of victims’ services, including helplines and shelters, and the development of accessible resources in different formats. We hope the creation of guidelines for authorities and accessibility requirements will be developed in partnership with or led by representative organisations to ensure they fully represent the needs of autistic people and disabled people in general.

We appreciate the effort and work of several negotiators, organisations and advocates who advocated for an improved Directive.

We ask member states to move beyond the provisions of the directive and criminalise forced sterilisation, as well as ensuring that legislation criminalising rape contains a consent-based definition of rape. We will support our members in advocating for legal change in this direction. 

 

  1. The “only yes means yes” approach requires that there must be clear consent to sexual contact. It is aligned with the Istanbul Convention and recognised to be the best model to protect victims of rape. See more on the definition of rape by the European Women’s Lobby.
  2. See the intervention of EUCAP Vice-President Sara Rocha on the topic of forced sterilisation, in the Hearing on Harmful practices in the EU towards women and girls with disabilities, with the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.