The European Union’s first directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence will not include the crime of rape, after a number of countries including Ireland, could not agree on a legal definition.
Under the proposed text, backed by the European Parliament and Commission, rape is based on a person not giving consent.
A number of advocacy groups had urged countries to back its inclusion.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre described the omission of rape as a “kick in the teeth for campaigners across Europe who championed a law that had real legal and symbolic significance”.
Its CEO Rachel Morrogh said the outcome “goes further than a missed opportunity, it sends a very disheartening message to all victims of sexual violence right across the EU”.
Over the past few months negotiations have been under way to convince member states to support the inclusion of rape in the EU’s first directive on combatting violence against women.
In the end 15 countries, along with the European Parliament and Commission, backed the measure.
However, some member states including Ireland expressed concern that it could be open to legal challenge.
Irish law around rape is already based on a person not giving consent. However, it was hoped that the directive could harmonise rules across the EU, as some countries include the use of force in their definition.
A lead negotiator on the file, Dublin MEP Frances Fitzgerald, says it has now proved impossible to get a sufficient number of countries to back the inclusion of rape in the directive.
“I’m very disappointed but I think it gives us a real lens into the true state of equality and the attitudes in relation to sexual violence and how difficult it is to get the consent issue into the definition of rape and into the crime of rape.
“It tells us something very disturbing about attitudes to violence against women and how much work we have to do,” she said.
Barry Andrews MEP, a member of the European Parliament’s committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality insisted that there was “clear legal advice” that the crime of rape based on consent could have been included in the directive.
“Unfortunately, there are different approaches to the definition of the crime of rape across EU member states and this decision has the danger of sending out a message of an EU that is confused and divided on such an important issue.”
Efforts will continue to agree on the rest of the directive, which will include other measures to combat female genital mutilation, cyber-stalking and non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
Negotiators will also seek to include a review clause in the directive, meaning it would have to be reviewed after a number of years.
Supporters hope it might allow for rape to be included in the future, if agreement can be reached.