Violence against women still disputed in Denmark

No agreement by researchers on study that finds Danish women face most violence in EU

A study found that women in Denmark face the most violence in the European Union, but a year later some Danish researchers still don’t believe it.


By Rachael Vasquez

In Denmark, the fight for gender equality is generally seen as fought and won.


The country ranks number 5 on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index (meaning women experience extremely high levels of equality), it has the second highest number of women in the workforce in the European Union according to the state statistics agency, Statistic Denmark, and the country celebrated the centennial of women getting the right to vote this year.


While American policymakers are still debating the merits of equal pay and maternity leave, Danish women enjoy 52 weeks of paid maternity leave after having a child and have been protected by equal pay legislation since 1976.


For those reasons and more it was a shock when the Fundamental Rights Agency, a European Union organization tasked with monitoring human rights throughout Europe, released a report in 2014 that showed 52 percent of Danish women have been exposed to physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; the highest in all of the EU countries.

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.53.24 AM

Figure by Fundamental Rights Agency

LOKK, a grassroots organization in Denmark that operates shelters for abused women, agrees that there is a big problem with violence against women in the country.


One woman who didn’t identify herself described her breaking point in a short video for the organization.


“One day I realized I had enough,” she said. She had cropped red hair and a tired look on her face.


“We had a fight the night before, after he had gotten off the night shift,” she continued “I dropped my kids off at daycare and I just got in the car and realized I had enough. I went home, packed my bags and left for the shelter.”


Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.54.10 AM

Figure by Fundamental Rights Agency

Study rejected by Danish researchers

Karin Helweg-Larsen, a medical doctor previously at the National Institute of Public Health, has studied violence against women in Denmark for over 40 years and disagrees with the findings of the study.


Larsen says the figures should really be closer to 100 percent of women.


“Have you never been pushed in the street or insulted by anyone in a bus,” she asks. “I think it’s really ridiculous.”


Larsen goes on to say that most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face, but in the Nordic countries they were done by phone. She points out that the number of people who opted to participate was also very low in Denmark.


“If you find that violence is a very big problem for you then you might be more willing to answer questions by telephone,” she says. “[You might also say], ‘this is not anything for me, I’ve never been insulted so I don’t want to participate.”

Hear Larsen’s Interview:

Others defend the results

Inge Henningsen, a statistician who studies gender equality at Copenhagen University says that the methodology used by the Fundamental Rights Agency takes away much of the risk of different interpretations of violence by asking very specific questions.


“The questions are not about violence, the questions are about concrete incidences,” she says. “Being slapped, being pushed, being beaten.”


Henningsen says that then, out of the respondents’ answers, the researchers construct a definition of violence.


“Having your hair pulled is having your hair pulled,” she says. “You can think that’s a big thing or you can not think that’s a big thing but that’s not what you’re being asked about. You’re being asked, ‘has this happened or has this not happened?’”


Robin May Schott, a philosopher and senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, says that the lack of attention the study received in Denmark is problematic. She points to the high rate of labor participation and alcohol consumption as possible explanations for the high frequency of reported violence.


“Women are of course out and in the public and in the nightlife,” Schott says. “There is a very high use of alcohol and a correlation between alcohol abuse and reported partner violence.”


Henningsen says that the critics who reject the study don’t really question the accuracy of the Danish figures.


“What they say is, ‘the women in those countries, they wouldn’t call it violence because they’re so used to it in those backwards countries;’ that’s what they hint at,” she says.“I say if it is so, it is not 13 million women in the EU being subjected to violence; it might be 26 million or 30 million. The problem is much bigger.”

Hear Henningsen’s interview: