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International Women’s Day: 83% of young women limit movement to avoid harassment, survey says

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Women, wearing masks against the COVID-19 infection that read "Feminist Solidarity", hold banners during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.
Women, wearing masks against the COVID-19 infection that read "Feminist Solidarity", hold banners during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.   -   Copyright  Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo
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Women are more likely than men to experience sexual harassment and often change their behaviour to avoid risks in their daily life, according to a new survey of nearly 35,000 people in EU countries.

A stunning 83% of women between the ages of 16 and 39 will change where they go or limit who they are with in order to avoid violence and harassment, restricting their own freedoms to protect themselves, the crime survey, from the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) revealed.

Some 39% of women in this age group change their behaviour for fear of assault or harassment all the time. Around 41 % of women at least sometimes avoid being alone with someone they know, for fear of assault or harassment, compared with 25 % of men, the survey showed.

On top of that, in the year before the survey, over one in four women were victims of harassment.

This overall survey, released in February, on EU citizens’ attitudes and view of crime also finds that men are more likely to be perpetrators of violence and victims. But although men are more often victims of physical violence than women, women are more likely to suffer violence of a sexual nature.

This echoes the concerning trends of other studies and surveys as well such as that women are more likely than men to be victims of violence by family members and are less likely than men to report incidents.

The EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is calling on International Women's Day for member states to empower women to report incidents to better protect citizens from violence and harassment.

It comes amid a larger global reckoning about violence against women and some tough statistics to swallow amid the COVID-19 pandemic which saw calls to domestic violence hotlines increase in the EU significantly amid strict lockdowns.

Reporting incidents of violence to police

Parisian blogger Amélie Challeat was returning from the hospital with her premature baby in February and left her car outside the building for a few minutes to get the child inside and protect her from the cold.

In a social media post that went viral in February, Challeat wrote that her neighbour punched her in the face after being infuriated that she parked the car outside the front door of the building.

The stunning account and horrifying photo made the rounds on the internet with Challeat saying that she struggled to get a meeting at police headquarters to report the incident.

Top officials in the French government including Marlène Schiappa, delegate minister within the interior ministry, tweeted that they were looking into the incident and that the young women had been offered an appointment with national police.

The EU Fundamental Rights Survey finds that across member states, willingness to report incidents to police varies significantly, which can depend significantly on the member state and their policies in place.

In France and Germany, for instance, there was higher reporting to police for violent incidents than in Greece and Finland, the data showed.

"In countries where you've got higher rates of awareness of equality and higher rates of awareness of things like MeToo, where for decades you've had campaigns about addressing violence against women, we typically find in the survey that women are more able to identify that they've experienced this kind of violence," said Joanna Goodey, head of the research and data unit for the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Overall, over two out of three women did not report incidents of violence to the police. Sometimes, this can be because women are more likely to suffer domestic violence and thus live with their perpetrator.

"But why women in some countries feel able to reveal incidents of violence needs to be explored more, and countries are encouraged to look into this as they are aware of their own cultural context," Goodey added.

In Romania, which has been heavily criticised for its domestic violence record, reporting to police is much lower for instance.

Overall, Romanians were more likely to intervene themselves overall if witnessing violence on the street in public, rather than calling the police. This was true for several other countries, such as Greece, Bulgaria and Poland as well, the survey showed.

Overall, just 30% of respondents (men and women) said they reported the most recent incident of violence they had suffered to police.

Impact of violence and harassment on women and other subgroups

The psychological impact of violence is often more difficult for women, the survey shows, and women tend to suffer more anxiety after an incidence of violence than men.

Women were more likely than men to feel anxious, more vulnerable as well as a loss of self-confidence after violent incidents. They also had more panic attacks, depression and difficulty sleeping than men.

"When women experience violence, they have much, much higher levels of depression, anxiety," said Goodey.

"And some of that is due to the fact that when they experience violence, it can be domestic violence. And of course, it's not a one-off incident. It can be a series of incidents."

The report emphasises that the location where violence occurs can also have significant consequences.

"In an open public setting, there can be other people present who can intervene and de-escalate the incident, report it to the police and/or act as witnesses later, whereas incidents at home may often occur without other people present, or in front of the victim’s children, who are also exposed to the violence," the FRA report states.

The data shows that people who were poorer and unemployed also experienced high levels in violence. Ethnic minorities and LGBTQ people also experienced higher rates of violence.

The data "shows that there are subgroups within those categories who are experiencing much, much higher levels of violence than if you just look at the general population as a whole," explains Goodey.

The agency hopes that the data will help member states to address issues of violence, particularly for women and other groups of people that are most impacted in the EU.