Trapped in Darkness: Women in Europe remain defenseless against gender-based violence

First published by European Journalism Network, March 8, 2024. Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

See also The New York Times Opinion, March 20, 2024 – Looking Away From an Epidemic of Rape. A new cross-border data investigation by EDJNet reveals gaps in the registration of femicides in Europe and the ineffective protection of women against crimes of sexual, physical, psychological and economic violence over the last decade.Ms. Gebremedhin is a co-founder and the president of Tigray Action Committee and United Women of the Horn.

“Mommy, he told me he’s going to cut my throat…”

Mommy, Mommy, Mommy I’m dying!“. Salamina, Friday night, December 1, 2023. 74-year-old Evangelia hears her 43-year-old daughter, Georgia Poutou, on the other end of the phone line, pleading for help. She quickly realises that her daughter has once again been beaten up by her partner. From her home she calls the police to send a patrol car, but her plea falls on deaf ears.

Finally, she herself rushes to her daughter’s house. When she arrives, she sees Georgia lying outside in the garden of the house, bleeding. The woman cannot walk, her ankle is broken and her knees are badly knocked out. The perpetrator is nowhere to be found. The battered woman, along with her mother and her 15-year-old son – a disabled child – set off for the island’s police station.

The policemen there won’t take a statement: ‘Go to the health centre, bring the doctors’ report and then come back to press charges’, they say. No mobilization takes place to arrest the violent offender, no concern for the victim.

The next day the physically abused woman herself insists on going to the police, even though her mother discourages her, fearing the worst. “Mommy, he said he’s going to cut my throat”, Georgia replies, as her devastated mother tells MIIR. The same fear pushes Georgia to seek protection. It was not her first savage beating by her 71-year-old partner, who has reportedly been convicted of assaulting another woman in the past – not that this has any restraining effect.

At the station she finds other police officers who finally take her statement, advising her not to stay in her house and placing the “panic button” app on her phone, so that she can call for help if she needs it. It wasn’t enough.

Three days later, on the morning of December 5, Georgia falls dead. Her abuser sought her out at her mother’s house where she had taken refuge. He shot her twice with a shotgun through the glass of the front-door, fatally wounding her in the abdomen and chest. The assailant was arrested but it was too late. Georgia was the 12th femicide victim for 2023 in Greece.

Femicide – The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) explains “Femicide is broadly defined as the killing of a woman or girl because of her gender, and can take different forms”. It is worth mentioning that EIGE adopts the statistical definition of “the killing of a woman by an intimate partner and the death of a woman as a result of a practice that is harmful to women”, and places crimes pertaining to these characteristics to “Indicator 9” which measures the deaths of female femicide victims aged 18 and older. In Greece there is no specific law for the criminal prosecution of the act of femicide, and so the phenomenon is monitored in the country through the collection of data regarding the female victims of intentional homicide, while the relationship with the perpetrator is generated in combination with the law for the handling of domestic violence.

Femicides without end in Greece and Europe

There is no official record of femicide in Greece, and the government insists that there is no reason to make femicide an crime in its own right. This is despite the fact that the number of women murdered or subjected to violence by men remains extremely high in the country. The consolidation of violence against women both in Greece and in Europe is reflected in the cross-border data investigation conducted for a second year by the Mediterranean Institute of Investigative Journalism (MIIR) together with 14 other European journalism organisations in the context of the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet).

For the needs of the investigation and in order to address the pan-European lack of comparable data on violence against women, the participating teams sought and contributed as up-to-date data as possible through requests to the relevant authorities in each country for the period 2014-2023. Data were analysed based on two primary sources: the reports of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE – provided data up to 2018) and EUROSTAT (data up to 2021). EIGE focuses on indicators measuring intimate partner violence, rape and femicide, while Eurostat focuses on intentional homicides, paying particular attention to the victim-offender relationship (partner or family member). It should be noted that EIGE considers this definition of intentional homicide by a partner or relative to be the closest to femicide. In our analysis we only included data that we were confident were consistent with EIGE standards.

By counting femicides based on data analysed to EIGE standards, we estimate at least 4221 victims in Europe between 2012-2022 (comparable data for Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Romania are not available and not all countries have data for every year).

If anything, the above figure gives evidence of underreporting of femicide by police authorities. This is because Eurostat’s crime statistics show that in Europe, in a total of 27 countries, 14143 intentional homicides of women happened in the same decade (regardless of the perpetrator). Of these, based on available data we analysed (for 19 countries), at least 6754 are intentional homicides of women by current/former partners (4334) and family members (2472). One realises that if there is more diligence in data collection and proper recording of the victim-perpetrator relationship by the police, then the resulting number of femicides could prove to be truly staggering.

Two femicides per month in Greece

According to the most updated figures we received from the Hellenic Police, the number of female victims of intentional homicides by male partners in 2024 was already 5 until February 29th.

Based on the most recently released femicide data for 2022 (EIGE standards), Greece saw a 4.3% increase compared to 2021, from 23 to 24 victims, confirming that at least 2 women per month died at the hands of a partner and/or someone in their domestic environment. Germany also showed a significant increase (22%). France and Italy had a decrease of 3.3% and 12.9% respectively compared to 2021, but still have a significantly high number of female victims of femicide (118 and 61 victims respectively in 2022). On the other hand, Slovakia and Cyprus – which remains the only EU country where femicide is recognised as a specific crime as of 2022 – saw a large decrease: 50% and 60% respectively.

From the data updated for 2021 in the Eurostat database on female intentional homicides by male partners, it appears that Greece recorded the largest increase (200%) in 2021 compared to 2020 and 4.3% in 2022 compared to 2021. The other four countries that recorded an increase in 2021 were Lithuania ( 83.3%), Sweden (15.4%), Italy (4.5%) and France (4.3%).

In terms of the highest increases for the decade 2012 to 2022, data analysed by EIGE standards show that Greece had the highest increase in femicides in 2021 with an increase of 155.6% to 23 femicides compared to 9 in 2020 (note: in last year’s report the number of victims for 2020 was estimated as 8 by police). The second highest number is in Sweden, which saw a 120% increase in 2018 (22 femicides) compared to 2017 (10), followed by Slovakia, which saw a 66.7% increase in 2020, and Croatia with 28.6% compared to 2019.

Based on newly available data for 2021, the European average number for femicides by intimate partners (EIGE) per 100.000 women (based on the 10 countries that provided data) is 0.39, a figure that corresponds to almost 4 women per million. Based on Eurostat, the average number of intentional female homicides by an intimate partner in 2021 for the exact same countries as EIGE is 2.4 per 100.000 women, a number that is lower than the official data we collected from national authorities for these countries, which could be indicative of how femicides are not correctly reported to Eurostat.

In 2021 and 2022 a total of 735 women were murdered by their intimate partner. Overall, the year with the most women killed by their partner was 2017 with a total of 566 women (EIGE standards), a percentage change of 1.6% from the previous year. The same year also saw the highest number (785) of female intentional homicides (Eurostat) by a male family member and a partner, and the highest number of female intentional homicides by a partner (511). The high number of recorded femicides in both EIGE and EUROSTAT could perhaps be explained by improved data collection on behalf of police authorities or it could highlight a bigger problem for 2017, since a steady rise of homicides was recorded in the previous years both in EIGE and in EUROSTAT data.

Unofficial sources are better at monitoring

For the purposes of the investigation the participating teams also collected data from unofficial sources, such as local monitoring groups for the recording of femicides. Such organizations mostly monitor media coverage with the aim of countering the underreporting of violence against women. This choice was made in order to compare the official number of femicides with the unofficial one.

For 2020 and 2021, the non-official number of femicides recorded by the Greek section of the European Observatory on Femicide was higher in Greece than the official number by 2.1 times in 2020 (19 vs. 9 victims), 1.34 times in 2021 (31 vs. 23) and 1 in 2022 (25 vs. 24).

This method also allows us to gain insight into countries such as Belgium that does not have any recent data in the Eurostat or Eige databases. However non-official sources estimate 101 femicides took place from 2020 to 2023 (source: “Stop Feminicide Belgie”). Significantly higher numbers of femicides compared to official sources are estimated for recent years by non-official sources in Italy, France and Spain.

Violence of all forms against women in Greece is on the rise

Femicides are often the last and irreversible stage in a process of escalating violence from the perpetrators to the victim, as the recent case in Salamina has proved. For the data investigation we analysed other indicators relating to physical, psychological, economic and sexual violence in order to highlight the variation in the number of women victims of each form of violence in recent years across Europe.

In terms of physical and sexual violence, in Greece the pandemic period was characterized by a frightening increase (110.2%) in victims of physical violence in 2020 (3609 women) and 70.9% in 2021 (6166 women), while victims of sexual violence had increased in the same two-year period from 69 to 147. The evolution of the phenomenon is even more disheartening for 2022, where a 20.5% increase in physical violence was recorded with 7430 victims, and an explosion in sexual violence (268.7%) with 542 female victims.

In contrast, Cyprus -in the year when it legally ratified femicide- saw a 9% decrease in physical violence incidents with 1752 victims in 2022 from 1925 in 2021, when it had seen a 78.9% increase in physical violence incidents compared to 2020 (1076 victims).

Greece in 2021 and 2020 was, based on available data, the country with the highest increase in psychological violence: 108.4% and 104.6% respectively. This trend continued in 2022, where there was an increase of 28%. In psychological violence in 2022, Slovakia recorded an increase of 4.1%, while Italy and Cyprus recorded a decrease of 0.3% and 5.2% respectively. EIGE has repeatedly highlighted the significant increase in psychological violence during and after the pandemic.

“Data-collection systems across the EU member States remain very heterogeneous, as they are grounded in national crime statistics or other administrative data sources on homicide (from the judiciary or health system) or from non-governmental organisations’ media analysis. Therefore, data is not comparable, making measurement across member states currently not possible”, explains Cristina Fabre Rosell who works as Gender-based Violence Team Leader at the European Institute for Gender Equality, adding that gender-based violent crimes remain under-reported. This makes tackling violence against women and developing policies that reinforce gender equality problematic. The Gender Equality Index for 2023 is indicative of this, as countries such as Greece, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania that are at the bottom of the list, do seem to have problems in addressing violence against women.

When it comes to economic violence against women in Europe (this is the suffocating financial control or financial bleeding that a man may exert towards his current or former partner), based on available data (2019-2022), four countries show decreases in victims: Serbia, Germany, Croatia and Slovakia. Greece had no data available at all before 2021, but in 2022, 1626 women victims of economic violence were recorded for the first time in our country.

Moreover, as revealed by the investigation, there is a remarkable Europe-wide increase in the appeal for help from victims of domestic violence or third parties to national support lines, such as the “SOS 15900 Line” in Greece. For 2022, the largest increases are found in Spain (21.51%), Greece (17.28%) and Ireland (19.66%). However, in 2023 in Greece, unlike other countries, a decrease (-21.62%) was observed (-21.62%), without knowing whether this is related to fewer incidents of violence or a tendency to avoid calling for help on the part of women.

Defenseless against rape and sexual assault

The area that most reveals the plight of women in Europe, and the one that causes the greatest political tension, is that of rape.

In Greece, rapes increased by 34.1% in 2022 (from 226 to 303 women) and 79.4% in 2021. Police data for 2023 indicates towards a consolidation of the high number of victims (294 women).

Spain recorded a significant increase in rapes in 2022 (140.7%), while the Czech Republic had a large increase in both years (25.9% in 2021, 11.1% in 2022). Slovakia (7.5%), Croatia (11.3%), Cyprus (5.6%), Ireland (3.2%) and Romania (2%) also recorded an increase in rapes in 2022.

Aggregated data from Eurostat’s database shows that 2021 was the year with the highest number of rapes in Europe – a total of 61,059 and an increase in 17 of the member states, confirming the findings of MIIR’s 2023 investigation of an increase in violence against women with the end of the pandemic. The number is likely to be higher as rape is considered a crime that is systematically underreported by police authorities, and there are significant differences between the definition of rape. A prominent example is Hungary where changing legislation now includes rape within the crime of sexual assault, without distinguishing between different victims. Among the countries with consistently high numbers of rapes per 100,000 women between 2012-2022 are Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland and Austria. For 2022 in Europe the average number of female rape victims per 100,000 women is almost 12.

Apart from the extent of the phenomenon, we also analysed the evolution in the penal treatment of perpetrators of rape and sexual assault over time.

With regards to rape, by calculating the median percentage change in the number of female rape victims and that of perpetrators prosecuted for rape, we can observe that the increases or decreases tend to follow each other. For example, Austria had a median change of 7.5% in the number of rape victims in the years 2015-2023 and a median change of 4.9% in the number of perpetrators prosecuted for rape. Sweden had a median change of 7.9% in the number of rape victims and a median change of 2.70% in the number of perpetrators prosecuted for rape.

Rape as a field of confrontation

The issue of rape has significantly divided the European Union, as shown by the recent negotiations to reach an agreement across member states on the new EU Directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence, initially proposed two years ago.

On February 6, a provisional agreement was finally reached between the European Parliament and Council on EU-wide rules to combat gender-based violence and protect its victims, especially women and victims of domestic violence. It includes minimum standard rules on the protection of women victims of violence, criminalisation of certain forms of gender-based violence, tougher rules on cyber violence, better access to justice, protection and prevention, as well as establishing enhanced reporting and evidence gathering by authorities.

However, the adoption of a controversial article on rape (Article 5), which would have made any sexual act without consent a criminal offence, was not achieved.


Firstly, it is a directive covering many criminal law aspects so negotiations took more time. Secondly working on women’s rights is always difficult because of patriarchal structures that are still guiding our societies unfortunately. The main obstacle was to get consent based rape legislation included which we did not manage to get in the end. There was a lot of resistance from several member states to this even though rape is the most widespread and serious form of gender based violence”, explains Swedish MEP Evin Incir (S&D), who is the European Parliament’s co-chief rapporteur on gender-based violence in the committee on civil liberties (LIBE).

In an interview with MIIR, MEP Incir added that “the concept of ‘rape’ is highly debated due to deep-rooted patriarchal norms in society. It’s challenging to reach an agreement that defines sex without consent as rape, as outlined in the Istanbul Convention. However, we’re optimistic that our recent negotiation success in including a provision on preventing rape based on lack of consent, will prompt a shift in societal attitudes across Europe. This, in turn, could generate the necessary pressure for national governments to update their legal definitions to align with international human rights standards, such as those set forth in the Istanbul Convention. Looking ahead, we anticipate the European Commission to propose new legislation specifically addressing rape, building upon this progress”.

The far right (also) threatens women

MEP Incir explains that the significance of the Directive “is further underscored by the looming threat of a right-wing surge in the EU, emphasizing the imperative for such protective measures. While it may not meet all our aspirations, this directive sets a foundational standard and serves as a starting point for progress, reinforcing the commitment to never regress on these critical advancements”.

This concern about the changing political and social environment in Europe in relation to the increase in violence against women is also expressed by Cristina Fabre Rosell, EIGE’s Gender-based Violence Team Leader, who told MIIR that “Two years after the Covid pandemic we don’t know if it’s still because of it, or because extreme forms of violence against women have increased due to different causes that are also related to the increase of the far right movements and the anti-gender narrative. We need to do more research on this, for me rape is a burning form of violence that demands our attentionFirst and foremost we must work towards better prevention”.

The Directive is expected to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and then, in the near future, enter into force. Member states will then have three years to implement it.


For the needs of the data investigation we tried to estimate the proportion of male offenders who are prosecuted for violence against women and end up in prison.

Based on our analysis, Greece has an extremely low and disproportionate conviction rate for domestic violence perpetrators compared to the number of prosecutions. In 2017 the conviction rate was 2.9%, in 2018 it was 2% and in 2019 it was 1.9%. In 2021 the rate increased to 3.2%. This means that just 3 in 100 men who are criminally prosecuted, are then convicted to imprisonment. The Greek authorities did not offer data for 2022.

Analysing data (EIGE) on average in Lithuania the estimate is 21%, in Croatia 22.26% and in Spain 30%. Spain has an overall steady increase in the number of convictions each year, with a 28.3% increase in 2015 compared to 2014, 29.6% in 2016 compared to 2015, 30.3% in 2017 compared to 2016 and 31% in 2018 compared to 2017. Croatia also shows an almost continuous increase in convictions. In 2015 it had an increase of 21.5% compared to 2014 and reached an increase of 22.9% in 2018 compared to 2017.

It is worth noting that the absolute figures may not fully reflect the situation in the reference year and that there may be anomalies in the data. For example, the registration of an offender in 2020 does not mean that the offense was committed in 2020, and similarly the imprisonment of an offender in 2020 does not mean that he committed the offense in the same year. For this reason, these rates are a relative estimate of the relationship between prosecutions and imprisonment of perpetrators of crimes of violence against women, recorded in a given time period, and should be interpreted as an indicator of a trend.

I don’t think that manifestations of violence against women should be misdemeanors. Criminalisation is a way of dealing with violence. But criminalisation without prevention doesn’t work. We can’t rely on tightening penalties without prevention measures. This can have the opposite effect, such as increasing hatred against women. This is not the way to change attitudes, we see it with femicide, where harsh penalties do not prevent men from killing women”, says EIGE’s Cristina Fabre Rosell, adding that member states need to invest in cross-sectoral cooperation between competent authorities.

Secondary victimisation

Τhe communication gap between the relevant agencies, according to Dr Petroulaki, leaves women completely unprotected and vulnerable to secondary victimisation in a lengthy criminal procedure, which, she points out, is not monitored over time in its entirety. “Even if a restraining order has been granted, who monitors its implementation and what happens if it is violated? No one and nothing”, she states. This in turn exacerbates the feeling of impunity among perpetrators, who repeat and escalate the pattern of violence and, as the data shows, even go as far as femicide.

This is the same impunity that armed the hand of the murderer of 43-year-old Georgia last December in Salamina.


Following up on last year’s “Undeclared War on Women” investigation that looked at the pandemic period, MIIR, together with a total of 14 European media outlets within the framework of EDJNet, attempted to generate the most up to date map of violence against women in Europe today. By requesting statistical figures from the competent national authorities for the years 2012-2023, MIIR created a new database which contains important findings for the direction of gender-based violence in European countries.

The research was based on two primary data sources. The first of these are the EIGE indicators for recording intimate partner violence against women and femicide by male perpetrators, as included in the 2021 Gender Equality Report, which includes data up to 2018. EIGE defines “intimate partner violence” as any act of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occurs between former or current spouses or partners, regardless of whether they live in the same house. The teams participating in the investigation sought and contributed as up-to-date data as possible, which was audited based on EIGE guidelines. As a second source and tool for informal “verification” of the results, Eurostat databases were used, providing data for the crimes of intentional homicides, rapes and sexual assaults, where the perpetrator is a partner or family member, up until 2021, as well as some details on the criminal sanctions against perpetrators. In the case of Greece, data was collected from the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, which in turn collected data from the Hellenic Police and the Ministry of Justice.

For more reliable results, due to both incomplete data and different methods of recording femicides based on the EIGE index from country to country, a choice was made to compare not absolute numbers but rather the percentage change in femicides between years, for those countries with available data. In addition, the data was extrapolated to comparable rates per 100,000 population.

For more on the methodology of the investigation, you can read the report by Thanasis Troboukis and iMEdD Lab, who conducted the data analysis and visualizations in 2023.

This cross-border data-based investigation was organised and coordinated by the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Journalism ( within the framework of the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet).

15 EDJNet members participated in this investigation, which was conducted from November 2023 to March 2024: MIIR (Greece), El Confidencial (Spain), Alternatives Economiques (France), Le Soir (Belgium), Divergente (Portugal), VoxEurop (Europe), Pod črto (Slovenia), Noteworthy (Ireland), EUrologus/HVG (Hungary), Deník Referendum (Czechia), PressOne (Romania), Delfi (Lithuania), Dennik N (Slovakia), OBC Transeuropa (Italy) and BIQdata/Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland).

The investigation was published on March 8 2024 on and EfSyn, as well as on other partners’ websites.

Data analysis and visualisations was conducted by Konstantina Maltepioti – MIIR. Data analysis check was performed by EUrologus/HVG. Illustrations were prepared by Louiza Karageorgiou.


Posted in: Civil Liberties, Comparative/Foreign Law, Criminal Law, Legal Research