Within the program of the ninth Vox Feminae festival (http://www.voxfeminae.net/2015/cet-5-11/item/8764-15-00h-panel-prema-sustavu-podrske-zrtvama-seksualnog-nasilja-booksa), on the 5th of November a panel discussion was held as a follow-up of the International Conference on Sexual Violence held in October in the Croatian Parliament. The participants of the discussion were Paula Zore, activist from the Women’s Room – Centre for Sexual Rights, and Branka Žigante Živković, judge of the High Misdemeanor Court. Here is a short review of the topics disused on this panel which include the impediments in the process of reporting, the role of the media in creating the public perception about sexual violence and the relationship between public institutions and the non-governmental sector in providing services for victims.
Zore and Žigante Živković underlined some of the issues related to reporting and dealing with sexual violence that were not given enough space at the conference, especially related to the work of nongovernmental organisations. Firstly, Zore reminded that the question of domestic violence always overshadows the problem of sexual violence, and that the Women’s Room is the only organisation in Croatia specialised in working with victims of sexual violence. She also warned that disproportionately more attention is given to the treatment of the crime of sexual violence in trials, while trials are actually relatively transparent. However, only 15% of the reported cases ends up in court, and thus the most non-transparent part of the process is between the report and the indictment. At this stage, women’s statements are often being disregarded or not believed at all, and they are often tested on polygraph. Furthermore, various professionals simply ignore the regulations of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence, as for instance medical doctors who refuse to explain to the victim the actions they would take and do not ask for their permission, warned Žigante Živković. Further impediments are caused by the unclear legal distinction between rape and ‘sexual intercourse without consent’ which differs from rape by not including the use of force and coercion. Zore and Žigante Živković agreed that the only purpose of this unnecessary distinction is to reduce the penalties since the minimal penalty for sexual intercourse without consent is six months of imprisonment, whereas for rape is one year. For these reasons, a group for the monitoring of the implementation of the Protocol was established.
Another issue discussed on the panel was the role of the media in creating the public perception about sexual violence. The main problem is that most of the reports about cases of violence are sensationalistic, almost pornographic, do not respect the confidentiality of the victim and are focused on the individual story without any analysis of the general problem. Even though there are trustworthy journalists, the same papers often publish good articles as well as sensationalistic report in the crime section in the same issue because, as Zore explains, there are no comprehensive editorial policies regarding reporting about sexual violence.
The general lack of systematic education for various professionals was stressed several times during the discussion. Zore said that only once was the Women’s Room asked to deliver a three-day educational training (to the Ministry of Health), which is clearly insufficient given the number of different professionals from various institutions that deal with the victim at some point of the process of reporting. Žigante Živković emphasised that institutions must rely on the non-governmental sector, which operates in highly precarious conditions with insufficient funds and most of the persons work on a volunteering basis. Zore added that this condition derives from the general problem of “projectification” of social services, i.e. the fact that such important services as the Centre for Victims of Sexual Violence of the Women’s Room, do not receive regular funding but rely exclusively on projects which require originality as one of the prerequisites for obtaining the support. For that reason, activists spend a lot of time and energy “inventing” always new reasons why is the problem of sexual violence original, new and important. This situation is particularly astonishing given the fact that the Women’s Room’s Centre is the only Centre for Victims of Sexual Violence in Croatia, even though the Council of Europe suggests that there should be at least eleven such centres based on the ratio of women in the Croatian population.
This panel discussion put forward several important issues that were not discussed on the conference in October. Among them, surely the most important is the precarity of the workers and services in the non-governmental sector that deal with victims of sexual violence. However, even though the problem of violence against men was mentioned, violence among same-gender couples and against trans-women was not touched upon, which indicates the invisibility of this topics as well as the lack of services for same-gender couples and trans-women among service providers in Croatia.