Press Release

Violence against women: Council and European Parliament reach deal on EU law

The Belgian presidency and European Parliament agreed on a first-ever EU law on violence against women and domestic violence. The new law lays down minimum rules concerning the definition of specific criminal offences and penalties to address this form of violence. It also sets out rights of victims of all forms of violence against women or domestic violence, and provides for their protection.

Criminalisation of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and cyber crimes

The new law would criminalise the following offences across the EU:

  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • non-consensual sharing of intimate images
  • cyber stalking
  • cyber harassment
  • cyber incitement to hatred or violence

Once adopted, the new law will set common rules on the definition of those offences and related penalties.

The directive will also introduce aggravating circumstances such as the repeated exercise of violence against women, committing an act of violence against a vulnerable person or a child and using extreme levels of violence.

Protection of victims and safe reporting procedures

The new law will also make it easier for victims of these crimes to access justice and obliges member states to provide an appropriate level of specialised protection and support.

Member states must for instance ensure that victims can report acts of violence against women or domestic violence through accessible and easy-to-use channels, including the possibility of online reporting, and to submit evidence online, at least for cybercrimes.

When children are victims of such wrongdoings, EU countries will have to ensure that they are assisted by professionals trained to work with children. And if the act of violence involves the holder of parental responsibility, reporting must not be conditional upon this person’s consent. In fact, authorities will first have to take measures to protect the safety of the child before that person is informed about the reporting.

Also, when a victim of sexual violence or domestic violence first makes contact with an authority the risk posed by the offender or suspect must be assessed. On this basis, authorities will need to provide adequate protection measures. These could include emergency barring and restraining or protection orders.

Victims privacy and right to compensation

In order to protect a victim’s privacy and prevent repeat victimisation, member states must also ensure that evidence relating to the victim’s past sexual conduct should only be permitted in criminal proceedings when it is relevant and necessary.

The directive also foresees that victims will have the right to claim full compensation from offenders for damages resulting from the offence of violence against women or domestic violence.  Victims should also be able to obtain compensation in the context of criminal proceedings where appropriate.

Helplines and rape crisis centres

According to today’s agreement, specialised support services, such as rape crisis centres, must be available to victims to offer advice and support, provide information about access to legal counselling, and provide help into finding shelters and medical care.

Member states must furthermore make a national telephone helpline available that victims of violence can reach 24/7, free of charge.

Prevention of rape

The Council presidency and EU Parliament agreed that EU countries must take appropriate actions – such as targeted awareness-raising campaigns – to prevent violence against women and domestic violence. These preventive measures are geared towards increasing awareness and understanding among the general public of the different manifestations and root causes of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence, as well as towards challenging harmful gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality and mutual respect.

Next steps

Today’s agreement will have to be approved by the representatives of EU member states at the Council. The final law is also pending adoption in Council and European Parliament.


Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and common human rights violations globally. The directive that presidency and European Parliament agreed on will be the first legal instrument which specifically targets violence against women and domestic violence at EU level.


Marie-Colline Leroy : This is a big step forward to better protect women and girls from violence, whether at home, at work, on our streets, off-line or on-line. The directive has a strong chapter on prevention to act against underlying patterns of coercion, power and control and takes specific rape prevention measures. Member states are sending a strong message: we no longer accept that if you are a woman you are more at risk than if you are a man.


Paul Van Tigchelt, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice and the North Sea : For many women in Europe, sexual violence, domestic violence, street harassment or online abuse are daily threats. Moreover, women all too often pay with their lives for relationship breakups. Even forced marriages and genital mutilation have not been completely eradicated from our society. We must put an end to this. With the new directive, the member states are taking important steps to collectively stand up against these severe crimes, both through an emphasis on prevention and consistent punishment.