NEWW-Network of East-West Women
Newsletter Winter 2003
The goal of NEWW's Newsletter is to inform readers of upcoming events and programs
and to provide information on the current situation of women's human rights in Central
and Eastern Europe, the Newly Independent States, and the Russian Federation (CEE/NIS).

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Sexual Violence in Eastern Europe: Legal System Response and Recommendations for the Future
By Halyna Fedkovych, 1999 NEWW Legal Fellow

This article is an excerpt from a full report funded by the World Health Organization dealing with the criminalization of sexual violence in Belarus, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. For the full text please contact Halyna Fedkovych at: [email protected].

Halyna was a 1999 NEWW Legal Fellow. She is a lawyer at Western Ukrainian Center "Women's Perspectives" where she works as a legal counselor and trainer on domestic violence and trafficking.

Assistance with this research was provided by:

Anna Wilkowska, Poland, 2000 NEWW Legal Fellow - [email protected] Anna is a researcher for NEWW-Polska working on the project "Gender and Economic Justice in European Union and Integration".

Liudmila Mazur, Belarus, 2000 NEWW Legal Fellow - [email protected] Liuda works with the Clean Clothes Campaign investigating the informal labor market and working conditions in Belarus.

Vesna Zivkovic, Serbia, 1999 NEWW Legal Fellow - [email protected] Vesna continues her work with SOS Association for Women and Children Victims of Violence as a legal counselor in NiS, Serbia.

Olha Harasymiv, Ukraine, 2000 NEWW Legal Fellow - [email protected] Olha is currently a Muskie Fellow working towards her L.L.M in International Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington D.C.

Roksolana Potsyurko - [email protected] Roksolana is a lawyer and a trainer of the Professional Skills Program and the Public Initiatives in Domestic Violence and Trafficking in Person Prevention Projects at the Western Ukrainian Center, "Women's Perspectives."

"Traditionally, sexual violence and sexual crimes
have not received serious public attention."

While sexual violence is highly prevalent in the countries of Eastern Europe, regular statistical data of law enforcement and other state authorities on sexual crimes does not exist in all countries, and in cases where information exists, it is often inaccessible to the public.

The research undertaken for this report indicated that the nonexistent and/or inaccessible nature of official data within these countries is a reflection of the public's opinion about sexual violence. Traditionally, sexual violence and sexual crimes have not received serious public attention due to widespread religious beliefs and traditional values. Most sexual violence cases never get to the police or prosecutor's office because officials do not take these cases seriously. Victims of sexual violence are often denied access to official redress mechanisms and are discouraged from reporting these crimes due to the social stigma attached to making such accusations.

In looking at the types of sexual violence crimes criminalized in the legislation, rape is the most frequently reported crime.

Penalties for rape according to the criminal law are serious almost in all countries. For example, in Serbia the penalty for rape is at least 1-year imprisonment, in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine it is 3-6 years imprisonment, and in Poland the penalty is from 1-10 years imprisonment. Penalties for rape committed in a particular cruel way or rape of a minor varies from imprisonment of at least 3 years in Serbia to 7-12 years in Ukraine. In cases of rape that involve especially severe consequences or the rape of a juvenile, more serious penalties of up to 8-15 years imprisonment are called for in the criminal codes of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

However, in practice these laws are applied on a minimum scale, if at all. In cases of rape, courts generally impose the minimum penalty stated within the Criminal Code. Research also indicated that in certain cases, judges within these countries would impose sentences below the statutory minimum. Therefore, what appear to be effective legal provisions vary in their implementation.

In these countries, the police and courts commonly treat rape as an everyday incident that results from the provocative behavior of women. The preparatory and judicial proceedings in rape cases are blatantly gender biased and female victims are often treated as if they were the criminal. Often, rape victims are still in shock when they report the crime to the police, and if they do report the crime, the victim will often have to endure hours of repeated questioning by the police about the crime. The police often treat the victim in a humiliating way, as if she deserved to be raped.

Another common problem uncovered within these countries involves the treatment of marital rape. In spite of legal provisions in the criminal codes that state that rape can occur between married people, there are still strongly held social beliefs against considering marital rape a crime. In many Eastern European countries, people still believe that it is a woman's matrimonial duty to consent to any form of sexual activity at any time during the marriage. Women are often not willing to talk about marital rape because of a feeling of shame, obligation and fear.

The discrepancies between what the law says on the books and how the law is actually implemented is a very serious problem in all CEE/NIS countries. To address this issue, we first need to change the attitudes of police officers, prosecutors, judges and other professionals who work with victims of sexual violence. From the NGO perspective, this is possible only with the close cooperation of law enforcement and women's NGOs that work in the field of violence against women. NGO professionals are able and willing to provide training programs for police officers and judges, to raise their awareness of the problem and to work with law enforcement to better understand and address the victim's needs. We also understand that it is only possible to do this when the general awareness of the problem is raised among people in the society.

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