Viking wife beaters? Or something else? Over to Borgen

All week people have been poking me in the eye with this new report about violence against women. The Schadenfreude has been palpable. Apparently, when it comes to beating and raping their women, Borgen’s blokes are no better than their Viking forefathers. In fact, a new report suggests that Harald Bluetooth and Sven Fork-beard were a pair of pussycats compared with today’s incarnation – the worst wife-beaters in Europe, allegedly.

The study in question is from FRA, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and is the largest of its kind to date. 42000 women in 28 European countries were asked about their experience of physical violence.  One in three women reported physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15, with the largest number of victims per capita in – yes you guessed it – in Denmark.

In this Scandi Happyland 52% of women say they have suffered physical or sexual violence, with Finland close behind at 47%, and Sweden trailing with 46%. The UK and France share the joint fifth highest incidence (44%) and Poland brings up the rear with just 19%.

Campaigners caution that what constitutes violence varies from country to country, so reporting could therefore be skewed. But does that really stack up? If some dude lamps you one, that’s violence in Livorno as well as in Liverpool and if you get raped in Berlin, it’s no different to getting raped in Belfast, so I really don’t buy that. Skewed statistics are much more likely to be due to a culture of under-reporting, caused by reduced expectations of what constitutes a decent life, from women in different countries.

Scandinavian women are equal to their men folk and they know it. If a man lays a hand on a Danish woman, she’s likely down at the cop-shop before you can say skål. What’s more, she’ll be taken seriously by the duty-desk. Hence these figures are a bit of a baffling head-scratcher.

At the low point of the scale, in Poland, anecdotal evidence from my bubbly Polish friend corroborates my suspicion. Her boyfriend, also Polish, is a really sweet guy, but she finds him unimaginably dull. And her compatriot girlfriends’ response to her bleating? “Don’t complain, at least he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t beat you up”.  In other words, the Polish bar for your dream date is seemingly set pretty low, calling into question the 19% strike rate – bad pun.

Be that as it may, national comparisons are not really the issue here. What matters is that the EU average rate for violence against women is a shocking 43%, clearly pretty outrageous. In an attempt to improve on this statistic, the UK has just rolled out the long overdue Clare’s Law, a scheme that lets people find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

All well and good, but if women don’t already report violence, how likely are they to seek information before it actually happens? Given that the new EU stats seem somewhat at variance with other socio-economic studies across similar territories, is Clare’s Law just another rearrangement of the deckchairs? If the stats reveal a catastrophic culture of under-reporting in member states, for whatever reason, aren’t we just chipping away at the tip of the iceberg, because we simply cannot face the enormity of the task of turning the ship?

That’s really depressing so let’s ask:


Just to rub some more salt into the wound, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights,  who is responsible for the report, is headed up by human rights lawyer Morten Kjærum – who is Danish. If my week is anything to go by, Morten’s week in Brussels must have been a laugh a minute.


Handily, Al Jazeera’s Alex Forrest kicks us off with an excellent little report from Copenhagen: “Danes top EU list for violence against women”.

A continued sift through the rest of the available info about Borgen’s take on violence against women, soon reveals that there is a lot more to these figures than meets the eye, which is pretty standard for any statistical effort.  For example, 25% of all victims of partner violence belong to an ethnic minority group and 40% of all refuge clients are born in another country than Denmark. So some of the gas rather goes out of our Viking balloon.

The report calls on EU countries to treat domestic violence as a public, not a private issue. Borgen already implemented this in 2002 when they stopped referring to ‘domestic trouble’ and started using the term ‘partner violence’. It is a criminal offence.  Here in the UK, you still hear police saying  “oh, it’s just a domestic”, when reporting on violence in the home. Not all ‘domestic violence’ in the UK is a criminal offence.

Unsurprisingly therefore, Borgen considers women of ethnic minority background to be particularly vulnerable. It explicitly recognises that ethnic minority women have specific and bigger difficulties in getting out from violent relationships than native Danish women.  As a matter of fact, they often go back to their violent partners and very seldom establish their own homes after leaving a crisis centre.

With particular regard to designing specific intervention for ethnic minority women, the national campaign Break the Silence has been implemented and the results of the campaign speak for themselves. Subsequent evaluations show that the campaign has been successful in finding its target, with a high number of mentions in ethnic media; there has been a marked increase in the number of calls to the nationwide hotline by ethnic minority women and a high level of satisfaction among relevant actors involved in the campaign. So far, Borgen has invested a quarter of a million Euros in the project. It has also set up a rehabilitation centre for ethnic minorities (R.E.D.). This is a special shelter for immigrant women, who have fled compulsory, forced marriage or threats of such marriage. The centre offers shelter for up to a maximum of two years, with general counselling and support to help the women regaining an active social life.

A supporting website (violence against women) offers a Hotline (+45 70 20 30 82) open 24/7 and staffed by professional counsellors.

A total of 45 refuges nationwide offer temporary residence for female victims of violence. They include around 400 places for adults and 450 places for their children; this equates to approximately 20 places per 100,000 women aged 16-49. The refuges receive about 2000 requests a year, and 98% of applicants are accommodated. The refuges are almost 100% publicly financed by local government.

In contrast, the UK provision has suffered from a series of cuts which has meant that, on an average day last year, 230 women were turned away by Women’s Aid.

Alongside the services for women, a massive programme also follows up the perpetrators of violence with a comprehensive programme of counselling, anger management and general support often lasting several years.

There’s clearly big work to do but Borgen isn’t exactly asleep at the wheel. So not entirely a case of “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” but not so far from it either. The headline that half the happy Danes routinely beat each other up might sell newspapers but, as per usual, the devil is in the detail.


2 thoughts on “Viking wife beaters? Or something else? Over to Borgen

  1. Feels odd ‘liking’ something that contains one of the singularly most depressing lines I’ve ever read: “on an average day last year, 230 women were turned away by Women’s Aid. ” Interesting to see the differing cultural response to a finding as a challenge to do something about changing it. Here in Ireland, ‘findings’ are usually taken as representing how things are – and probably ever will be – and therefore are just raked over for political point-scoring about who’s to blame rather than actually doing anything about it.

    • Interesting point. I’m not intimately familiar with Irish political minutiae but what you say sounds strikingly familiar from a UK perspective. UK government action invariably seems behind the curve, really only kicking in as a reaction to growing public i.e. voter disquiet. Rarely do politicians – of any colour – seize the iniative and actually start making changes when a problem crops up. I’m not suggesting that Borgen’s politicos are immune to voter pressure but they do seem less concerned about it, when going about their daily business.
      Which is as it should be. Even in a democracy…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s