The European Parliament has strongly condemned any form of sexual violence and deplores the fact that these acts are too easily tolerated. Perpetrators must be punished, said the MEPs.

MEPs reiterated the parliament’s 2014 call on the European Commission to propose an EU-wide strategy, including a draft law with binding instruments, to protect women against violence, including sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women and girls.

Combating sexual harassment also includes awareness raising campaigns and tackling the issues of under-reporting and social stigma, according to the resolution passed by 580 votes to 10, with 27 abstentions.

The MEPs called on EU member states to examine the situation in their national parliaments and take appropriate measures.

“Politicians should act as responsible role models in preventing and combating sexual harassments in Parliaments and beyond,” they said. 

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) study from 2014 on violence against women: one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence during their adult lives and up to 55% of women in the EU have been sexually harassed.

Also, a third (32%) of all victims in the EU said the perpetrator was a boss, colleague or customer. And three-quarters (75%) of women in qualified professions or top management jobs have been sexually harassed, as have 61% of women employed in the services sector.

MEP Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and shadow on this topic, said: “Sexual harassment happens everywhere, also here in the European Parliament. This is just unacceptable. All of us have to speak up and express our support to the victims.”

“We urgently have to make sure that existing legislation is sufficiently and swiftly applied and that all further necessary steps are taken to improve the current situation, be it in the EU institutions or anywhere else in the EU.”

Sophie in ‘t Veld, first Vice-President of the ALDE Group, added: “We must also tackle sexism. Sexism isn’t harmless, it lowers the threshold for harassment and ultimately violence. Sexist jokes are not funny. They are just sexist and degrading. It is time women are treated with respect. Like the old adage: If the girl says no, she means no. It is as simple as this.”

Swedish MEP Malin Björk also declared her support for the wave of popular mobilisation with the #MeToo campaign.

“We will support all those who spoke out. We will support all those who break the silence. We will be there for each other… #MeToo is about recognising that there is a structural problem.

There are not just a few isolated cases and it is not – as some racists in this house like to believe – only men from a particular culture or religion. It’s about all men. It is about the macho culture in our societies.”

Italian MEP Eleonora Forenza shared her own personal story of harassment in the plenary. “When I was 19 years-old, while at university, a professor of about 70 years-old made advances on me. I said ‘no’. I will never forget how I struggled to understand what had happened to me on that day. The feeling of shame, of anger. Most of all, I will never forget the woman who helped me overcome that disgust.”