EU needs harmonised protection for young girls and women

Written by Madi Sharma on 5 September 2014 in News
News

Events in Rotherham in the UK highlight the need for an EU-wide legal framework of warning and protection that can tackle such cases of abuse, argues Madi Sharma.

When I first read the UK news about the report on Rotherham on 26 August I could hardly believe that this level of ineptitude and lack of coordination in dealing with such a horrendous crime was possible in a modern organised society as the one in which we live.

However, the reality is that about 1400 girls in Rotherham alone were sexually abused and exploited between the years of 1997 and 2013.

According to the report from an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, children as young as 11 were, "raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated".

Three previous inquiries had presented similar findings but, according to the report, had been "effectively suppressed" because officials "did not believe the data". The inquiry team found examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone".

"The inquiry team found examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone"

The report further states that "one child who was being prepared to give evidence received a text saying the perpetrator had her younger sister and the choice of what happened next was up to her. She withdrew her statements. The perpetrators systematically terrorised the victims to prevent them from seeking help.

Another part of the report which points to the heart of the problem is that the authorities, including the social services, the local council and the police, ignored the facts or even encouraged the “silencing” mainly because they wanted to avoid pointing fingers towards specific ethnic groups, which they believed would create tensions within the local community.

Almost all the perpetrators, as described by the victims, were of Pakistani origin, members of local gangs, and according to the report, the authorities ignored the extent of the problem hoping that this was only a “one-off problem” and nothing extensive that would affect the community as a whole.

Nevertheless, we should not make the same mistake and consider this an isolated case. There are also other cities across Europe that face the same challenges, lacking the necessary warning system that would prevent such crimes from happening in the first place and reaching such a situation without the authorities reacting with adequate measures.

At the European Union level there is not yet a legal framework that would allow such a warning and protection system, providing harmonised rules in all member states. The EU has not yet signed the Council of Europe Istanbul convention, which is the first legally binding instrument which creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combating violence against women.

According to the convention, countries should exercise due diligence when preventing violence, protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators. This should also be the case when criminalising several offences, including psychological violence, stalking, physical violence, and sexual violence, including rape.

"The EU has not yet signed the Council of Europe Istanbul convention, which is the first legally binding instrument which creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combating violence against women"

The recent European elections provided the EU institutions with a unique opportunity to address this issue.

An adequate harmonised legal framework of warning and protection should be put in place, one which will safeguard the life and dignity of young girls and women from being endangered by such crimes, one that will protect the rights and freedoms which are deeply rooted within the founding treaties of the union.

About the author

Madi Sharma is European economic and social committee rapporteur on the exploitation of children

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