LONDON — A rape victim was drunk? He or she flirted beforehand or wore “revealing” clothing? In some European countries, up to 55 percent of the population says such circumstances would make sexual intercourse without consent justifiable or acceptable, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission. Overall, about one-fourth — 27 percent — of all Europeans held that opinion.
The number is much higher in Eastern and Central European nations such as Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. In Romania, more than 50 percent of all respondents said nonconsensual sexual intercourse was acceptable in some circumstances. Although there was a clear divide between Eastern and Western Europe, geography alone does not explain the striking differences.
In Belgium, for instance, 40 percent agreed that sexual intercourse without consent is justified in some circumstances, whereas only 15 percent said so in neighboring Netherlands.
The report's authors called for more attention on protecting women from becoming victims of sexual assault. “There are still Member States where there is considerable work to do in addressing perceptions about gender-based violence, particularly the idea that violence against women is often provoked by the victim or that women often make up or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape,” they wrote.
Malta, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were noted as being particularly worrisome in that regard.
The E.U. report comes amid growing concern about recent sexual assaults in European countries by refugees or immigrants. In Germany, mass sexual assaults this past New Year's Eve led to a stricter sexual-assault law that also eased deportation rules for refugees convicted of sex-related offenses.
The changes, which were approved by parliament in July, appeared to be aimed at two overlapping targets: closing legal loopholes amid complaints that German codes on sexual assaults are too lax and addressing mounting public backlash after the country absorbed the bulk of the wave of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and beyond last year.
As a result, countries such as Germany also introduced courses for refugees with the declared aim of teaching newcomers respect for women.
The survey released by the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U., appears to show that Europe's sexual-assault-acceptance problem is not limited to immigrants, however. Twenty-seven percent of all native Germans said sexual intercourse without consent may be justified in some circumstances, a number that exactly matches the average across the E.U.