“You are not alone” – an initiative to change the legislation in the countries of the Region
The You Are Not Alone initiative, launched a few days ago by the Academy for the Democratic Development (ADD), was supported by thousands of citizens from across the region, including prominent human rights activists, anti-violence activists and numerous public figures such as Biljana Srbljanovic and Ana Bekuta, Natasa Ninkovic, Igor Juric, Dinko Gruhonjic, Jelka Jovanovic, and former MPs Aleksandra Jerkov and Balsa Bozovic from Serbia, Mile Kekin and MP Bojan Glavasevic from Croatia, Aida Jokanovic and MP Sasa Magazinovic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sonja Lokar and Mija Javornik from Slovenia, State Secretary for European Affairs Kalinka Gaber from Northern Macedonia, MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Senida Messi from Albania Ljubomir Filipovic from Montenegro, as well as many others. ADD thanks everyone for the support they provided to the women and girls who reported sexual violence they were the victims of, and for sending them a message together that they are not alone and that we will stand by them in the great fight that lies ahead.
It is important that this support does not remain symbolic and declarative, so the Academy for the Democratic Development will launch a campaign You Are Not Alone to make legal, judicial and other procedures for rape victims as easy as possible in all the countries in the region and to make sure that they are not exposed to additional victimization and subsequent trauma.
The first step will be an initiative to change the definition of rape in all of the countries in the region – Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Northern Macedonia – and to ensure that women who report rape do not face legal barriers, legal loopholes and formalities which often prevent them from getting to justice. Any sexual intercourse without consent, without exception, must be punished. Estimates of whether or not rape has occurred are based on notions of “typical” behavior in these situations, the belief that the use of force is necessary, and various gender stereotypes and myths about male and female sexuality. Furthermore, there must be no statute of limitations for the crime of rape. No matter how much time has passed since the act itself, it must always and at all times be punishable. Changing the law can only be the first step. Special training must be provided for police officers, prosecutors and judges who deal with rape cases and who are in direct contact with victims. They must not be the ones to whom the victims have to justify themselves, the ones who put additional guilt on the victims of rape, because of whom the victims relive the trauma. It is not enough that survivors can, but do not have to, obtain the status of a particularly sensitive witness, their protection must be greater and more comprehensive. Similar to victims of violence in Austria, a model must be found whereby they have to repeat their story only once and that one statement is considered sufficient, not that they face endless and often cruel processes in which they defend and justify themselves by proving someone else’s guilt. A model must also be proposed that these proceedings last shorter than it is the case now, because it is not uncommon for the processes to last longer than the actual prison sentences to which rapists are sentenced. It is also crucial to separate the criminal prosecution of the perpetrators from the procedure of exercising the rights of the victims. In other words, the state must trust the victim, instead of asking them to prove that they was raped. ADD will propose these amendments in all of the countries of the region. We will work with organizations that have been dealing with this problem for years, that work with women who have reported sexual violence, who understand the problems that victims face. They have lived and suffered enough. The system doesn’t need to trip them up yet. It is our task to change and fix that. It is our task to help them.