“Careful if you are going out jogging by yourself.”

“If you don’t want to attract unwanted attention, don’t put that skirt on.”

“Don’t drink.” 

“Don’t stay out late. Who is taking you back home?”

“Don’t walk alone after dark, it is dangerous.”

If this does not sound familiar to you, most probably, you are not a woman. This is because us women are repeatedly faced with similar fear-inducing warnings placing the responsibility of our safety solely on us; so much so that these phrases become part of our shared experience as women.

Over my years of political engagement, I met several survivors of sexual violence, including rape, who confided in me. Some women I met were coerced into the sexual act against their will but did not put up a fight against their aggressors in their particular circumstances.

These encounters show the complex dynamics of coercion and how rape and sexual violence often occur within the context of a power imbalance.

In Malta, the latest data from Eurostat reports 28 women victims of rape in 2021, which is the highest since 2019. To address this scourge in Malta as in the rest of the EU, in 2022, the European Commission proposed a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

The proposal enhances victim support and access to justice through tailored protection, support services, emergency measures and compensation claims. Additionally, it requires adequate prevention efforts and professional training, coupled with improved data collection.

The proposal makes clear that rape is one of the most serious offences breaching a person’s sexual integrity and is a crime that disproportionately affects women. In Article 5, it defines rape as penetrative sex performed without consent, with a body part or an object.

The consent that is required according to this proposal refers to an agreement that is freely given. It is not to be assumed from a lack of verbal or physical resistance or from the context of past intimate relations. Thus, consent must be clearly expressed and may be retracted at any moment.

Conversely, the absence of consent is not only a ‘no’ or silence but any circumstance where an individual is coerced, pressured or intimidated into sexual activity.

This distinction is not a formality; it is an essential prerequisite as the answer to this question clearly distinguishes between consensual sexual relations and rape.

In Malta, the latest data from Eurostat reports 28 women victims of rape in 2021- Helena Dalli

Data shows that, in those member states where rape is defined in terms of an absence of consent, reports indicate an increase in the number of rape cases filed. This rise is linked to heightened public awareness of the improved legal definition of rape and an increase in trust in the legal system’s readiness to address such claims.

Article 5 is, therefore, a beacon of empowerment for women as it shifts the discourse from questioning the victim’s behaviour to affirming the principle that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’.

By legislating on this basis, we do not only uphold the intrinsic value of individual will but also craft a legal shield that protects all women, asserting with unwavering clarity that unconsented sexual acts constitute rape.

I hold firm on the belief that the EU needs to adopt Article 5 and call for a unified definition of rape based on the lack of freely given consent. We would be negligent not to ensure that all women living in the European Union are offered the same level of legal protection.

I augur that the Council will come to agree on the urgency to take a step in this direction and share the commission’s perspective on this important definition. I expect that it agrees to establish that all sexual intercourse without consent is rape.

Helena DalliHelena Dalli

This is a decisive step toward a justice system that fully protects potential victims and supports all survivors; building a society that unequivocally respects personal boundaries and integrity.

Helena Dalli is European Commissioner for Equality.

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