In 2024, negotiations will continue on the VAW Directive – the first binding EU legislation on combating violence against women and domestic violence. No agreement was reached during the last trilogue session of this year, and it remains unclear whether an agreement can be reached before the EP elections in June. While the European Parliament is holding firm on maintaining the criminalisation of rape with a consent-based definition across the EU, several MS oppose this, including France, Germany and the Netherlands – all countries that already ratified the Istanbul Convention, which uses a similar definition.
The EU Council seems to place politics and technicalities ahead, while consent-based laws are an essential measure to ensure greater access to justice for victims of sexual violence. Too many European countries still have outdated legislation with patriarchal definitions that require force or threats to have taken place in order to prove rape.
The VAW directive is an important tool to achieve an end of gender-based violence and helps to achieve goals that are in line with the Istanbul Convention. Next to a consent-based definition of rape, the EP proposes free and specialised support for victims and calls for a uniform and harsher sentencing of perpetrators, especially when there are aggravating circumstances. These include the victim’s residence status, if the person was a victim of human trafficking or living in places such as asylum seeker facilities, retirement or children’s home.
The EP also proposes complementary criminal rules on sexual assault cases that cannot be defined as rape. It also calls for EU legislation on intersex genital mutilation, forced sterilisation, forced marriage and sexual harassment at work.
In 2023, La Strada International followed the negotiations together with other European CSO networks and, among others, demanded the institution of safe reporting mechanisms to ensure that women and girls are free to report violence regardless if their residency status. See our earlier published joint position on the Directive.