1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Female abuse rife in Europe's halls of power

David Martin
October 16, 2018

Almost half of female politicians and parliamentary staff in Europe say they've been threatened with violence, according to a study. A majority of parliaments don't have a mechanism for women to speak out or seek help.

Terry Reintke with #metoo sign
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Hertzog

Almost half of Europe's female politicians and parliamentary staff members have at some point received threats of death, rape or beating, according to a new study published on Tuesday. This also included threats to either kidnap or kill their children.

The findings by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization for individual parliamentarians, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe provide a snapshot of how widespread sexual abuse and violence against female government workers is in Europe's parliaments.

As many as 85 percent of all surveyed women had at some point suffered psychological violence. In total, 68 percent reported they had been the target of comments relating to their appearance or based on gender stereotypes, while a quarter said they had been the victim of sexual violence.


<div class="opinary-widget-embed" data-poll="do-you-see-sexual-harassment-as-a-seriou" data-customer="deutschewelleeng"></div> <script async type="text/javascript" src="//widgets.opinary.com/embed.js"></script>

Younger women aged 40 or under were found to be the most vulnerable. Among staffers, 49 percent said they had been abused in the workplace; in 70 percent of cases the perpetrator was a male politician. 

"As a woman MP myself, I am deeply troubled by these results that show that the problem of sexual harassment in parliaments is even worse than we thought," Inter-Parliamentary Union President Gabriela Cuevas said. "Not only is harassment a severe infringement of women's rights, it's also bad for democracy. We need to acknowledge the perverse effect that this can have on the freedom of action of women MPs."

Tuesday's report was based on interviews with 123 women — 81 MPs and 42 parliamentary staff members — from 45 European countries. 

GMF: Women in the arts and feminism in the age of #MeToo

Harassment with impunity

The study also warned that male MPs had gotten away with harassment and abuse because most of Europe's parliaments had failed to introduce the right mechanisms for women to report mistreatment or seek help.

Only 23.5 percent of female MPs and 6 percent of parliamentary staff members who had suffered sexual harassment said they had reported the incident.

Those women who were active in the fight against gender inequality and violence against females were all the more likely to be singled out for attack.

Read more: 'In principle it is complicity': The social psychology of sexual violence

European Parliament in Brussels gets its #MeToo movement

The report's release comes a week on from the launch of a new blog detailing anonymous accounts of sexual abuse at the European Parliament in Brussels. 

The group known as MeTooEP said it has decided to lift the lid on sexual harassment inside the EU institution following a lack of action by parliament officials.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.