Think all of your fellow citizens understand the definition of “rape”? Think again.

Gender studies students wearing masks pose with the word "Enough" written on their hands during a performance to commemorate victims of gender violence, during the U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in Oviedo, Spain November 25, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

In a recently published survey conducted in all 28 European Union member countries, over a quarter of respondents said that non-consensual sex can be justified in some circumstances. These respondents agreed that in at least one of several scenarios – including when someone is drunk or using drugs, “doesn’t clearly say no or physically fight back,” or “wears revealing, provocative or sexy clothing” – sex without consent would be acceptable.

The data also shows that victim-blaming remains alive and well. Nearly one in five respondents agreed that “violence against women is often provoked by the victim.” More than one in five agreed that women reporting violence are often lying or exaggerating.

Is it any wonder that another survey suggests that two-thirds of women experiencing domestic abuse and three-quarters of those who experience non-partner violence – both of which can include sexual violence – in Europe don’t seek services or report it to authorities?

This year, the issue of sexual consent has been widely discussed. In the US, widespread outrage greeted a verdict in which university student Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, was sentenced to only six months in jail. He was released after three. A UK police department’s “consent is like a cup of tea” video, which helpfully attempted to explain the concept via examples from daily life, went viral.

But the newly released survey results suggest that many Europeans still don’t understand that non-consensual sex – even if a person does not physically resist – is rape, let alone that people impaired by alcohol or drugs may be unable to give consent at all. On November 24, the eve of the United Nations’ annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the European Commission announced a 2017 campaign to combat violence against women, including rape and other sexual violence. Such action can’t come soon enough.

A landmark Council of Europe convention on violence against women and domestic violence, called the Istanbul Convention, came into force in 2014, setting standards for combating gender-based violence and providing services to survivors. That includes all forms of sexual violence. But 14 EU member states and the EU itself have yet to ratify it.

Every EU government should ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention and strengthen prevention and prosecution of gender-based violence and essential services for survivors. EU governments should also step up efforts to inform the public about rape and sexual assault. No one should think they can justify forcing someone to have sex because she or he is wearing skimpy clothing or too drunk to protest.