A major new study has revealed that one in three women across the European Union has suffered a physical or sexual assault since the age of 15.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which interviewed 42,000 women aged 18-74 across the 28-nation union, said it was the most comprehensive of its kind to date both in the EU and worldwide.

The highest level of abuse was reported by women in Denmark (52%), with the Netherlands (45%) and France (44%) among those above the EU average of 33%.

Ireland was below the EU average at 26%.

FRA director Morten Kjaerum said: "What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women's lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities."

The FRA probed women's experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including domestic abuse, as well as stalking, sexual harassment, childhood experiences and the role played by new technologies.

The report reveals that one-in-ten women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, one-in-20 has been raped, while just over one-in-five has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner.

Just over one-in-ten women indicated that they have experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15, the Vienna-based FRA said.

"Yet, as an illustration, only 14% of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police, and 13% reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence to the police," Mr Kjaerum said.

He said that "violence against women, and specifically gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook".