OSCE Research on Violence Against Women and Girls in Ukraine and Moldova

Robert Wragg, Ipsos MORI

4 April 2020

New research from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Ipsos finds that around 80% of women in Moldova and 75% of women in Ukraine have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lives.[1] The research suggests that violence against women is widespread, that the responsibility for violence is often placed with the victim rather than the perpetrator and that survivors are reluctant to report their experiences of violence or seek support.

Researchers spoke to women about their experiences of violence at the hands of current intimate partners, previous intimate partners, and non-partners. The research explored multiple forms of violence, including: physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment and stalking.

Why is the research needed?

Violence against women and girls occurs within and across borders. It is a pervasive global problem that threatens individual human rights, economic stability and security and requires a local and international response. Comparable nationally representative data is key to ensuring that policies and programmes to support women are targeted and effective. It is also essential for accurately monitoring progress in the global fight against gender inequality. And yet, until now, data from South Eastern and Eastern Europe have been severely lacking.

The OSCE-led Survey on the Well-being and Safety of Women, which was conducted in 2018,  is the first such comparable and representative survey carried out in the region. For the first time, women were asked systematically about their experiences of violence, its consequences on their health and well-being, their experiences of accessing support services and persistent harmful norms and attitudes.

This data can increase our understanding of the scale, impact and underlying causes of the phenomenon, improve the services offered to women and inform policymaking.  

The results do not make for pleasant reading. Violence against women and girls is widespread; its physical and psychological consequences are severe and long-lasting. Moldova and Ukraine both recorded high levels of violence: 80% and 75% of women respectively say they have endured at least one form of violence since they were 15 years old.

In this article, we highlight some of the key findings from Moldova and Ukraine, which we hope will be relevant to organisations supported by the BEARR Trust.

How was the research carried out?

The OSCE-led research explored women’s experiences of violence across seven OSCE-participating States in South-East Europe and Eastern Europe. The research was also conducted in Kosovo.[2]Data was collected through a household survey with 15,179 women (2,048 in Ukraine; 1,802 in Moldova) aged 18-74. Women were asked in face-to-face interviews about their experiences of violence in conflict and non-conflict settings. In-depth interviews and focus group discussions with women from various backgrounds, as well as interviews with experts, were also conducted.

Women were asked about the severity and intensity of their experiences of violence, the physical and psychological impact it had on them, their awareness of and experiences with support services, their reporting behaviours, and their attitudes towards gender roles and norms. The research aims not only to reveal the scale of violence, but also to examine the underlying causes and enablers of violence as well as the barriers that prevent women from seeking help.

What do the findings tell us?


Violence against women and girls is widespread in Moldova and permeates all sections of society. Eight in ten women say they have experienced violence since the age of 15, with a quarter having experienced intimate partner physical, sexual or psychological violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.[3] Intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence is more prevalent in rural areas of Moldova, while sexual harassment, stalking and non-partner physical and/or sexual violence is more prevalent in urban areas.

In the majority of cases, survivors of violence do not contact support services or authorities – neither to request support nor to report their experience of violence. Consequently, the violence can continue, and women may be forced to endure its physical and psychological impact without specialised help.

Only eleven percent of survivors contacted the police following their most serious incident of current partner physical and/or sexual violence and just 30% contacted the police following their most serious incident of previous partner violence.

Survivors cite shame, fear, lack of trust in the police and healthcare professionals, as well as a lack of long term and practical support – such as housing and financial aid, as reasons for not seeking out help. Local and international experts added that a lack of shelters for women can increase their reluctance to report their experiences.

Many do not report [violence], as the fine takes money away from the family.” – Female qualitative research participant, Moldovan.

I have a friend in such a situation, and she tells me that her husband is violent. They have four children together, so you can’t just tell her to leave him. You have to think about the children as well.” – Female qualitative research participant, Gaguaz.

Harmful social norms and attitudes – through which women are viewed as subservient to men – persist in Moldova, with victim-blaming also commonplace. Half of women agree that ‘violence against women is often provoked by the victim’, half agree that ‘a good wife obeys her husband even if she disagrees’ and just over half agree that ‘domestic violence is a private matter that should be handled within the family’.

Women – wives – usually don’t talk about sexual [violence], because society doesn’t understand this type of violence. The victim is questioned intensely by everyone: ‘How [is this possible]? You are married.” – Female qualitative research participant, Transdniestrian region

Women in Moldova are aware of some of the local NGOs that are providing services for those who have experienced violence, though older women, women living in remote areas and Roma women are less aware of the existence of these services. Nevertheless, most survivors choose to speak to family members or friends rather than specialist services about their experiences of violence.


Violence against women and girls is also commonplace in Ukraine – with three quarters of women having experienced violence. Psychological violence, in particular, lacks recognition in Ukrainian society.

Psychological [violence] is considered completely normal, and nobody pays attention [to it]… I don’t think there is anyone here [in our country] who wouldn’t have to face this.”  – Female qualitative research participant, Ukrainian.

Around a quarter of women in Ukraine have suffered physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Almost a quarter have also experienced physical or sexual violence from someone other than an intimate partner. Two in ten had experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence from an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Eighty-four percent of women were left suffering from the psychological impact of their most serious incident of physical and/or sexual violence, and nearly six in ten endured a physical consequence.[4]

Worryingly, almost half of women in Ukraine say they do not feel informed about what to do if they experience violence. Of those who are aware of support services, as in Moldova, few contact them. One survivor highlighted shame in her community as the main reason for her silence: ‘Women are ashamed to talk about such problems with people they don’t know. They would rather talk to a friend about this’.

Similar social norms and attitudes – which encourage silencing and victim-blaming – exist in Ukraine and Moldova. Over half of women in Ukraine agree that ‘it is important for a man to show his wife/partner who is the boss’ and around a quarter agree that ‘domestic violence is a private matter that should be handled within the family’ and that ‘violence against women is often provoked by the victim’.

One of the reasons for low reporting rates is a lack of trust in official institutions; women do not expect an effective response from the police:

I called the police, but they didn’t come, because they considered this domestic business. They said a police officer would come the next day. The police officer didn’t come, and when I met him at the outdoor market and asked why, he said, ‘Why should I?’” – Female qualitative research participant, Ukrainian.

Armed conflict may also be a precursor to intimate partner violence in Ukraine. Four in five women whose current partner has fought in conflict say they have endured physical, sexual, or psychological violence at the hands of their current partner, compared with just under three in five women whose current partner has not fought in conflict. 

Next steps

  • These findings suggest that violence against women and girls occurs at scale in Moldova and Ukraine. A holistic approach involving local civil society organisations and support services, the police and justice sectors, as well as local and international policymakers is needed to tackle the issue.
  • Women and men need to be made aware of the scale of the problem, the various forms of violence, and international and local provisions on preventing and combating violence against women.
  • Women need more practical support – including shelters – to enable them to report their experiences of violence and receive the help and support they need. Support services need to recognise the impact of psychological abuse and provide necessary services.

Detailed findings of the OSCE-led research in Moldova can be found in the Moldova Results Report

Detailed findings of the OSCE-led research in Ukraine can be found in the Ukraine Results Report

Cross-regional comparative findings and recommendations for international actors and policymakers can be found in the Main results report

Two thematic reports are also available, on the experiences of disadvantaged groups and violence against women in conflict.  

Technical note:

Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 2,048 women aged 18-74 in Ukraine and a representative sample of 1,802 women aged 18-74 in Moldova using a random probability sampling approach. The data is weighted to the known population profile within each OSCE participating state. The survey achieved 99% coverage in Moldova and 84% coverage in Ukraine. Survey interviews were conducted face-to-face by female interviewers from 17 April – 21 September 2018 in Moldova and from 2 April – 17 September 2018 in Ukraine. All surveys are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error. Ipsos also interviewed 10 key experts in Moldova from June – July 2018 and 10 key experts in Ukraine from July – August 2018. Eight focus groups with a combined total of 73 women were carried out in Moldova. Eight focus groups with a combined total of 66 women were carried out in Ukraine. In both Moldova and Ukraine, four in-depth-interviews were carried out with women who had experienced violence. Full technical details can be found in the Technical Report.

[1] This includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, sexual harassment and stalking, at the hands of current partners, previous partners or non-partners.

[2] All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.

[3] Prevalence of intimate partner violence is based on all ever-partnered women (1,608).

[4] The percentage of women who identified ‘a most serious incident’ of any intimate partner or non-partner violence who were left suffering from psychological and/or physical consequences (n=579).

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