Sexual violence against women is one of the most harmful forms of gender-based violence. In Croatia, it is the most problematic form of violence because it is one of the least recognised and least reported crimes.
„Protocol of Conduct in the Cases of Sexual Violence“
Sexual violence is a violation of women`s basic human rights and oppression against women created by a patriarchal society. Sexual violence is omnipresent, regardless of age, race, class, religion, etc., and it is characterized by a continuum. Women and girls are persecuted throughout their day, on the street, at work and at home. Sexual violence is a continuum from sexual harassment and sexual abuse, right through to rape and incest as well as trafficking in women for the purposes of forced prostitution or pornography.Other forms of sexual violence include ritual practice, punishment for gender transgression, rape as a weapon of war and female genital mutilation are also form of the sexual violence.
Approximately 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner sexual violence in their lifetime and a third of girls will lose their virgnity through force (WHO, 2002). For every reported case of rape, it is estimated that another 15 to 20 cases of rape go unreported. Data from the Women’s Room – Center for Sexual Rights in Croatia shows that 17% of women have experienced attempted rape or rape. Of this 17% , only 5% reported such violence to the police and/or the State Attorney’s Office (Women’s Room, 2006). Women’s Room – Center for Sexual Rights is a civil society organization in Croatia that runs the only counseling programme for survivors of sexual violence at their Center for Victims of Sexual Violence in Croatia.
Croatia is a small country with over 4 millions inhabitants; women make up 51% of the population. According to the recommendations from the Council of Europe’s specialized group for combating violence against women, every country should have one centre for survivors of sexual violence per 200,000 women. With an estimated population of over 2 million women; the Center for Victims of Sexual Violence is the only one.
One of the biggest problems is that survivors of sexual violence are often stigmatized, viewed as persons who have made irresponsible choices and decisions that contributed to the violence they experienced. Society sees them as persons who are partially guilty because they share responsibility for the crime committed against them and, as a result, offers no systematic help and support. In addition to this problem, behaviour and treatment of the government institutions towards survivors of sexual violence in Croatia is also cause for concern. Lack of awareness, empathy and most of all, specialized knowledge and/or systematic trainings on how to work with survivors of sexual violence often manifest itself as a significant obstacle during processing of cases and providing protection. And the cherry on top, the minimum sentence for rape, for example, is one year in Croatia. Due to overcrowding in prisons and, I in my opinion the generally accepting attitude toward this type the most hideous crime against women, the perpetrators serve just 2/3 of their sentences. And lets not forget that the criminal proceedings last from anywhere between 3 to 6 years.
Taking all this in mind, we can see that the path to truly preventing and ending sexual violence is long. However, one big step forward has been taken in the form of the “Protocol of Conduct in the Cases of Sexual Violence” (the Protocol) was adopted by the Croatian Parliament in 2012 after years and years of working on it and lobbying for it. The Protocol is a Croatian national policy document which is mandatory reading for all government institutions/bodies that work with survivors of sexual violence and promotes a survivor-centered approach to care. The Protocol is based on laws and regulations and on the obligations prescribed by National Policy for Gender Equality 2011 – 2015, as well as on the Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence, and the Explanatory Memorandum.
This document is important for survivors of sexual violence in Croatia because it proscribes current, compassion as well as gender and culturally sensitive and comprehensive help and support.This Protocol is obligatory reading for five government institutions: police, health services, judicial authorities, social welfare centers and educational institutions.
Since the survivors of sexual violence are faced with the daunting task of reporting the crimes committed against them multiple times, cooperation between the relevant institutions is crucial. For this reason, and to prevent further victimization of survivors, the Protocol includes important aspects such as cooperation between the competent bodies and other factors involved in identification and elimination of sexual violence and providing assistance and protection to persons who were exposed to sexual violence.
The process of reporting sexual violence must be as easy and comfortable as possible to avoid traumatizing survivors of sexual violence. We know that if we make this process easier, the number of reports of sexual crimes will increase. This is possible only if we ensure standardized and efficient procedures for survivors as outlined in the Protocol.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is the only day out of the year when society stops and thinks about these violations of basic women. But oppresion, violence and discrimination is omnipersent, 24/7, in our homes, in our beds, in our places of work, in our schools and on the street.
Sexual violence is one form of the violence that we should talk about more louder every day until it ends, until all women and girls feel free and safe, as of sexual violence, as well as from any other form of violence that we suffer because of our gender.
Women`s Room – Center for Sexual Rights
Republic of Croatia
 Women`s Room – Center for Sexual Violence was the initiator and founder of the idea.