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Europe: Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault Serious Problems

by Sofia Kluch and Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • Even in gender-equality pioneer countries, majorities see abuse as a problem
  • Concern about domestic violence on par with terrorism concerns
  • 58% think women in Portugal treated with respect

Just as the Weinstein scandal showed that even famous and powerful women can be vulnerable to sexual abuse, Gallup's data highlight that gender-related violence remains a prevalent problem even in some of the most progressively minded countries in Europe.

Across European nations surveyed in 2016, more than three in four adults said domestic violence and sexual assault were "serious problems" in their country, placing residents' concern about these issues at least on par with their concern about terrorist attacks.

More Than Three-Fourths of Residents in European Countries Say Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Are Serious Problems
Please tell me whether you think each of the following is a serious problem or not a serious problem in [country].
Yes, serious problem
Gang violence 79
Sexual assault 77
Domestic violence 77
Acts of terrorism by country residents 75
Acts of terrorism by nonresidents 75
Outbreaks of contagious disease 62
Current level of immigration 57
Gallup World Poll

Though these results vary significantly by country, clear majorities in all 13 countries regard domestic abuse as a serious problem, from two-thirds in Ireland (66%) to almost all adults in Portugal (98%). Even in European countries often viewed as pioneers in gender equality and family-friendly policymaking -- such as the Netherlands, Iceland and Sweden, three of the five best-rated countries in the United Nations' Gender Inequality Index -- about eight in 10 residents say domestic abuse is a serious problem.

At Least Two-Thirds in All 13 Countries Say Domestic Violence Is a Serious Problem
Please tell me whether you think domestic violence is a serious problem or not a serious problem in [country].
Yes, serious problem
Portugal 98
France 90
Malta 90
Iceland 85
Sweden 82
Belgium 80
Netherlands 79
Denmark 78
Finland 75
Cyprus 73
Luxembourg 72
Switzerland 68
Ireland 66
Gallup World Poll

Portuguese residents' perception of domestic violence as a serious problem seems to reflect more general concerns about treatment of women in the country. Fifty-eight percent of Portuguese adults believe women in the country are treated with respect and dignity, easily the lowest figure among the 13 countries included in the analysis. High rates of domestic abuse -- particularly cases in which women have been murdered by their spouses -- have made headlines in Portugal in recent years, as have the Portuguese government's efforts to pass legislation that better protects battered women.

Portuguese Least Likely to Say Women Are Treated With Respect and Dignity
Do you believe women in [country] are treated with respect and dignity, or not?
Yes, treated with dignity and respect
Switzerland 94
Denmark 93
Finland 92
Ireland 92
Luxembourg 91
Belgium 89
Iceland 89
Netherlands 87
Malta 85
Sweden 81
France 75
Cyprus 68
Portugal 58
Gallup World Poll

In most countries studied, women are somewhat more likely than men to view domestic violence and sexual assault as serious problems in the country. The gender gaps are largest in Switzerland and Iceland; most notably, 72% of Swiss women feel sexual assault is a serious problem in the country, vs. 52% of Swiss men.

In Most Countries, Women Are More Likely Than Men to View Sexual Assault as a Serious Problem

Please tell me whether you think sexual abuse is a serious problem or not a serious problem in [country].

% Serious problem

Women Men
% %
Portugal 96 93
Iceland 92 77
France 91 86
Denmark 88 84
Sweden 86 80
Belgium 81 80
Netherlands 80 68
Switzerland 72 52
Cyprus 67 62
Finland 62 50
Ireland 60 58
Northern Cyprus 51 49
Gallup World Poll

Women are also somewhat less likely than men to say women in their country are treated with dignity and respect (79% vs. 86%, respectively, across the 13 European countries studied). Further, women in more vulnerable groups -- including those with low levels of education and those who are unemployed or underemployed -- are especially likely to disagree that women in their country are respected.


Fueled by the current momentum for gender parity, this year's International Women's Day has adopted the theme "Press for Progress." Prevailing concerns about domestic violence and sexual assault in Europe indicate there is much work to be done even in countries that are held up as models of gender equity. However, in demonstrating that these problems are taken so seriously by majorities of residents in each country, the data also offer hope for the kind of social change that leads to sustainable progress.

Find out more about Gallup's World Poll research in Europe.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each country between February and June 2016. For results based on the total samples at the country level, the margin of sampling error is ±3.6 to ±5.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.