Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. Main results report

This FRA survey is the first of its kind on violence against women across the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU). It is based on interviews with 42,000 women across the EU, who were asked about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of intimate partner violence (‘domestic violence’).

The survey also included questions on stalking, sexual harassment, and the role played by new technologies in women’s experiences of abuse. In addition, it asked about their experiences of violence in childhood. Based on the detailed findings, FRA suggests courses of action in different areas that are touched by violence against women and go beyond the narrow confines of criminal law, ranging from employment and health to the medium of new technologies.

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Methodology Q and A

This is a brief overview of how the FRA survey on violence against women was carried out. Detailed information can be found in the Technical Report.

1. Who were the survey respondents?

Over 42,000 women aged 18-74 years old were interviewed across the EU. This corresponds to 1,500 women per country (except Luxembourg with 900 respondents).

The lower age limit was 18 years due to the sensitive nature of the survey and the limitations in some Member States on interviewing women under 18 without parental approval.

A breakdown including socio-demographic characteristics is annexed in the main results report.

2. Why, when and how was the survey carried out?

The survey responds to a request for data on violence against women from the European Parliament, which was reiterated by the Council of the EU in its Conclusions on the Eradication of Violence against Women in the EU.

FRA designed the survey with input from academic experts and civil society representatives working on violence against women. A consortium – under contract to FRA following an open call for tender – extensively tested the survey in 2011, and carried out the fieldwork from March to September 2012. The consortium included Ipsos MORI, the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, affiliated with the United Nations and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. Ipsos MORI identified organisations in each EU Member State to manage the interviews locally.

Together with FRA, the consortium designed an interviewer training programme and trained the national trainers in February 2012. The national trainers trained selected female interviewers in each country. FRA and the contractors participated in some training sessions to monitor the training content.

The questionnaire was translated into local languages, which were used to interview respondents. Ipsos MORI compiled the data into a single data set for the initial EU-level comparative analysis. FRA carried out the final analysis.

3. How were respondents selected?

In each Member State the survey is based on a nationally representative sample of women. In countries where population registers could be used for sampling, a sample of individuals was drawn from the registers, and the interviewers could contact the selected women directly. In countries where such information was not available, researchers first drew a sample of households, and interviewers selected the respondent from eligible women in the household. People who were randomly selected for interviewing could not propose someone else to interview instead.

4. How was the privacy, anonymity and confidentiality of respondents assured?

The survey was carried out by professional interviewers, trained to ensure confidentiality. The survey data set does not contain any personal information which would enable respondents to be identified. Care was taken during the data analysis so that nobody can be recognised from the results.

5. How long was each interview?

The length of interviews with each respondent depended a lot on their experiences. For women who had experienced many incidents of violence the interview took longer than the planned 50 minutes. For someone who had not experienced any form of violence it was shorter.

6. Which topics were covered by the questionnaire?

The standardised survey used across all Member States included questions about physical, sexual and psychological violence, childhood victimisation, sexual harassment and stalking (including new media such as the internet). Women were asked to provide information about their own experiences of violence, how often this has taken place, and the consequences this has had on their lives. The survey also collected information about reporting and non-reporting to the police, and about women’s use of other services that can assist victims.

7. Does the survey ask who commits the abuse?

The survey asked respondents about their experiences of violence by intimate partners – people with whom women are or have been married to, living together as a couple or in a relationship. It also asked about experiences from other people, such as strangers, acquaintances, colleagues or other people at work, or family members (other than the partner).

8. How did the survey measure physical/sexual/psychological violence?

Respondents were asked questions about specific violent acts which the respondent may have experienced – such as being kicked, slapped, hit, etc. Earlier research has shown that in this way respondents are more likely to remember and identify incidents of violence. The questions on experiences of violence did not use terms such as ‘rape’ or ‘abuse’ which respondents might understand in different ways.

9. How did the survey measure sexual harassment?

Respondents were asked whether they have experienced specific incidents, which they considered unwanted and offensive. This included being told sexually suggestive comments or jokes, unwelcome touching or kissing, or receiving sexually explicit emails or text messages.

10. How did the survey measure stalking?

Respondents were presented with a list of incidents, and asked whether the same person was responsible for these incidents. Among other things, the incidents included examples of repeatedly receiving offensive material (e.g. by mail or through the internet), threatening or silent phone calls, or cases where the respondent was repeatedly followed or where her property was tampered with.

11. How representative are the results?

The respondents were selected based on random sampling. The results are representative of the experiences and opinions of 18-74-year-old women living in the EU.

12. Could the results be influenced by outside factors?

Only one woman per household was selected. Interviewers did not disclose the topic of the survey to other members of the household. The interviews were carried out in a place where only the respondent and the interviewer were present and they could not be disturbed.

Participation was voluntary. The interview could be interrupted or rescheduled to ensure that the interview was carried out in private. The respondent could say at any point whether she was comfortable to continue or not.

Respondents could also mention any experiences which they did not want to disclose in the interview in a self-completion questionnaire. The survey used only female interviewers.

13. How did you ensure the results are comparable?

To ensure comparability, FRA carried out a pilot study in 2010-2011 in six Member States – Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain. The pilot was based on a draft questionnaire. A combination of methods was used to explore differences in how respondents in different countries may understand items in the survey. The results fed the further development of the questionnaire before it was finalised and translated for use in all Member States.

Differences between countries and within countries in rates of violence against women are also reported in other surveys e.g. the WHO’s study on women’s health and domestic violence, and the US national intimate partner violence and sexual violence survey.


Findings Q and A

1. Why was the Violence against Women survey carried out?

Despite the significant impact of violence against women, policy makers and practitioners in many EU Member States are still struggling with a lack of data that obscures the scale and nature of the problem. As most women do not report acts of violence against them, policy and practical responses to address violence against women are not always informed by comprehensive evidence.

There have been repeated calls over recent years from different quarters for comprehensive data on violence against women, including by a number of presidencies of the Council of the EU, monitoring bodies such as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Council of Europe.

FRA’s EU-wide survey responds to a request for data on violence against women from the European Parliament, which was reiterated by the Council of the EU in its Conclusions on the Eradication of Violence against Women in the European Union.

2. How was the survey conducted?

The FRA survey on violence against women, which is based on face-to-face interviews with 42,000 women, presents the most comprehensive survey worldwide on women’s experiences of violence.

  • Women aged 18-74 who live in the EU and speak at least one of the official languages of their country of residence were interviewed for the survey. The interviews were conducted face-to-face by female interviewers in interviewees’ homes using standardised survey questions across all Member States, and took place between March and September 2012.
  • All respondents were selected randomly and the survey results are representative both at EU and national level.

3. How does the FRA survey differ from other surveys on violence against women?

Before the FRA survey on violence against women, there was no comparable data available on the issue at EU level. Since the mid-1990s, surveys which address violence against women have been carried out in many European countries, but the results of these surveys are not comparable. For example:

  • The focus of the surveys has varied from domestic violence to intimate partner violence to violence against women more broadly, and even terms such as domestic violence have been defined in different ways in different countries.
  • Sampling and interviewing methods have differed (e.g. telephone interviews vs. face-to-face interviews vs. self-completion questionnaires)
  • Surveys have been carried out at different points in time, making it difficult to assess whether there are real differences between countries or whether they are due to developments over time.
  • The questions asked differ from survey to survey, making it difficult to compare their findings directly.  

4. What questions did the survey ask?

The survey asked women about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including domestic violence, since the age of 15 and over the 12 months preceding the interview. Questions were also asked about incidents of stalking, sexual harassment, and the role played by new technologies in women’s experiences of abuse. In addition, the survey asked about respondents’ experiences of violence in childhood.

5. What is the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women?

  • 33% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, while 5% has been raped since the age of 15.
  • Out of all women who have a (current or previous) partner, 22% have experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence by a partner since the age of 15.
  • 20% have experienced physical violence by someone other than their partner since the age of 15.
  • Just 33% of victims of partner violence and 26% of victims of non-partner violence either contacted the police or some other organisation (such as victim support) following the most serious incident of violence.

6. What are the consequences of physical and sexual violence?

  • The survey shows that emotional and psychological consequences of physical and sexual violence can be long-lasting and deep-seated.
  • 21% of victims of sexual violence suffered from panic attacks after the event.
  • 35% became depressed as a result of sexual violence.
  • 43% had difficulty in subsequent relationships as a result.

7. How big a problem is stalking?

  • 18% of women in the EU-28 have experienced stalking since the age of 15.
  • 5% of women have experienced stalking in the 12 months prior to the interview. This would correspond to 9 million women in the EU-28 experiencing stalking within a period of 12 months.
  • Out of all women victims of stalking, one in five (21%) had experienced stalking that had lasted over two years.
  • 23% of victims of stalking indicated in the survey that they had to change their email address or phone number in response to the most serious case of stalking.

8. How many women have suffered sexual harassment?

  • 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment in some form, such as unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing since the age of 15.
  • 32% of all victims of sexual harassment said the perpetrator was a boss, colleague or customer.
  • 75% of women in qualified professions or top management jobs have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.

9. How many women have suffered cyber harassment?

  • 11% have experienced inappropriate advances on social websites or have been subjected to sexually explicit emails or SMS messages.
  • 20% of young women (18-29) have experienced cyber harassment.  

10. What are women’s experiences of violence in childhood?

  • 12% of women indicated that they had experienced some form of sexual abuse or incident by an adult before the age of 15, which would correspond to 21 million women in the European Union.
  • 97% of women who had experienced sexual violence in childhood said the perpetrator was male.

11. Do women report incidents of violence or harassment?

  • 67% did not report the most serious incident of violence by a partner to the police or any other organisation.
  • 74% of victims of stalking indicated that the most serious case never came to the attention of police.

12. How can differences between country findings be explained?

Women’s perception of whether violence against women is common in their country is closely connected to their personal experiences of domestic or non-partner violence, their awareness of other women who are victims of violence, and their awareness of campaigns addressing violence against women. The interplay between these factors needs to be taken into account when interpreting data and in developing policies to raise awareness of violence against women in different settings.

Variations between countries in the prevalence of violence reported in the FRA survey need to be looked at in relation to a number of factors. It should also be noted that a 10-country survey by the World Health Organisation also found large differences between rates of domestic violence against women in different countries. FRA puts forward five possible explanations for observed differences between countries in prevalence rates for violence against women, which require further exploration:

1) The extent to which it is culturally acceptable to talk to other people about experiences of violence against women, including to survey interviewers.

2) Higher levels of gender equality could lead to higher levels of disclosure about violence against women, as incidents of violence against women are more likely to be openly addressed and challenged in societies with greater equality.

3) Women’s exposure to risk factors for violence can be examined at the Member State level with respect to factors that might increase exposure to violence, such as patterns in employment (working outside the home) as well as socialisation and lifestyle patterns (going out or dating).

4) Differences between countries in overall levels of violent crime, which need to be examined alongside findings on violence against women. For example, a greater degree of urbanisation in a country is generally related to higher crime rates.

5) As there is evidence, including in FRA’s survey, of a relationship between perpetrators’ drinking habits and women’s experiences of domestic violence, different drinking patterns in Member States may help to explain certain aspects of violence against women.

13. Are the results from FRA’s survey in line with findings from other survey research on violence against women?

The FRA survey results are broadly in line with results from national surveys on violence against women. For example, a survey of 10,000 women in Germany found that 37 % of all women interviewees have experienced at least one form of physical attack or threat of violence by a partner or a non-partner since the age of 16. In England and Wales, a survey of 5,991 women showed that 18 % of women had experienced some form of stalking since the age of 16, while the FRA survey found that 19 % of women in the United Kingdom have been victims of stalking since the age of 15.

14. What can be done to improve the situation?

  • Women are abused at work, at home, in public and online. And as most respondents think that violence against women is common in their country, EU and national bodies need to review measures to tackle all forms of violence against women, no matter where it takes place. Ratification and aligning national laws with the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, as well as ensuring the full implementation of the EU Victims’ Directive, will be important steps forward in this regard.
  • Police, healthcare professionals, employers and specialist victim support service providers should be trained, properly resourced and given the necessary powers to reach out to victims to ensure all forms of violence against women (and girls) in varied settings are recognised, recorded and acted on.
  • Women’s (and men’s) knowledge about violence against women needs to be enhanced through awareness raising that draws on detailed data to ensure that messages target the right audience. This can help improve reporting of violence to the authorities and victim support services.
  • National stalking laws should comprehensively serve the needs of victims.
  • Internet and social media platforms should proactively assist victims of cyber-stalking/ harassment to report abuse, and be encouraged to limit unwanted behaviour.
  • Member States should learn from promising practices already adopted in other countries that effectively address and combat violence against women.

15. How will the FRA follow up on the results of the survey?

FRA will promote the use of the survey results for policy change. This will be achieved together with other institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). FRA will also work in close cooperation with the Member States and civil society organisations.