The European Union's executive arm issued plans Tuesday to harmonize the criminalization of rape across the 27-nation bloc on the strict basis of lack of consent. The plans include the criminalization of female genital mutilation and cyber violence, reports the Associated Press. The large majority of EU member countries already treat violence against women and girls as a crime, but the commission said there are gaps in national legislation. For instance, while rape is criminalized across the EU, 18 members still require the use of force or threats to mete out punishment.
The proposed directive from the European Commission on International Women's Day lays out targeted support from member countries to specific groups, including women fleeing armed conflict. That topic has gained prominence since Russia started its invasion of non-EU member Ukraine last month. The war has led hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women and children to flee, exposing themselves to a high risk of exploitation by human traffickers. Helena Dalli, the EU Commissioner for Equality, said rape is being used “as a weapon of war" in Ukraine. The EU says one in three women in the bloc has experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. One in two have experienced sexual harassment, with one in 20 women reporting having been raped.