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Have we allowed the perpetrators to win and why is the public inclined to judge the victims?
It would have been better if it had never happened, if she had not accused him and he did not do it; it would be better if rape never happened and there were no victims. If Milena Radulović and other girls had no reason to accuse Miroslav Aleksić, and Danijela Štajnfeld - Branislav Lečić. It is terrible and difficult to accept when we wish these horrific things never happened at all. But they happened, and they are talked about now because they happen to many women. This has also encouraged the Serbian #MeeToo movement, that could, unfortunately, remain only an attempt, as the culture of condemning the perpetrator is only just being established here - it practically does not exist yet.
A deeply divided public is additionally polarized by cases of sexual violence - who believes her and who believes him - fanatically, and to the point of exaggeration that is clear in messages which make you wonder how someone lacks empathy to not spread hatred if they don't have something smarter to say. At least until a court decision is reached. This is not an issue of who believes whom; but, although we have always been taught to protect the weaker, part of the public still confronts rape victims, and that is like kicking someone who is already on the ground. All those messages and reactions give the wind in the back to the perpetrators and provide them support. Not only on social networks - those messages should not even be read, but also through the media and statements of certain public figures.
“After I opened my soul, I felt liberated; I also thought that the public would be on my side," said Danijela Štajnfeld. "But it caused an even greater uncertainty and a ridiculous amount of dehumanization."
Have the perpetrators won if we hear so many hate messages addressed to women who speak out about sexual violence, and how have we reached a point where victims experience retaliation and doubt? As the entire system is set in such a way that too heavy a burden is placed on the victims when it comes to proving a crime, it is not surprising that the public is inclined to "judge" them.
We should also mention court practice. How effective it is, how many verdicts have there been in favor of the victim... because everyone invokes the presumption of innocence.
The Criminal Code in the Republic of Serbia, as well as the current practice, are set in such a way as to take more care of the rights of suspects and defendants throughout the proceedings. When we talk about the concept of a victim, it should be clarified that our legislation sporadically speaks about victims, while the focus is primarily on the witnesses who have been harmed by a criminal offense. If you look at this fact alone, it is clear that the court practice views the victims exclusively as a source of knowledge about the committed crime; to them, the victim is equal to a source of evidence, said Andrijana Radoičić Nedeljković from NGO Atina for Nedeljnik.
While international legislation began talking about the rights and position of victims, needs of victims of crimes, and directing the process so that the rights of victims are not violated back in the 1970s, domestic practice is still full of secondary victimization and retraumatization of victims, which is inadmissibly justified by the interest of the proceedings.
This is supported by the low application of the status of protected and particularly sensitive witnesses. Even if this status is granted, it is often only formally in place, as provisions of this status are not respected (the victim testifies in front of the defendants, instead of giving a statement via video/audio means of communication, etc.).
Regardless of the fact that international legislation also recognizes the victim's right to reflection, i.e. the period in which they do not have to testify nor speak with the judiciary, and which aims to provide them with recovery and necessary support, the practice is such that the victim is expected to be responsive to all summons of the judiciary in the first phase of the proceedings, participate in all procedures, and be the subject of all forensic evaluations within the procedure.
In the end, even if a conviction is reached and the criminal offense is proven, the question arises as to what the victim gets, apart from the fact that the perpetrator was found guilty. The right to compensation is still at the level of statistical error when it comes to practice, and victims most often have to initiate and finance these procedures themselves, which further demotivates the initiation of these processes in general.
Have the perpetrators won, and how did we reach a point where the victim is not believed? I will add here that there is a recording, that Danijela Štajnfeld has been talking about it for months, she made a movie, the New York Times wrote about the case... so the question arises what would happen if there was no recording - if it was "just" a word?
As the entire system is set up in such a way that too much burden is placed on victims when it comes to proving a crime, it is not too surprising that the public is inclined to “judge” victims. On the one hand, it speaks of a staggering tolerance for violence, which is reflected in its relativization, but on the other hand it also speaks of the fact that we can certainly expect for perpetrators to become encouraged, which will result in an increase of violence, because this will open a wider space for them.
It is important to note that perpetrators use intimidation, manipulation and blackmail to establish control over victims. One of the most common strategies is to convince the victim that no one will believe her, that she will be guilty, that the society will condemn her, that she deserved and asked for it. It is devastating for us as a society when we meet the expectations of the perpetrator once the victim speaks up.
I know it's not recent, that the victims are not trusted, but this case is a bit different as it is not just her word. Why?
This often happens, because we do not want to question our personal heroes, we do not accept that someone who is powerful, respectable, famous, could secretly do the things we condemn.
We are even less willing to deal with it if someone we know, or love, is accused. If a man has friends, admirers, and social status, he also has a defense against rape and there is a tacit request for the public to sympathize with him. On the other hand, it gives a person the power needed to commit violence.
People do not believe victims of sexual violence, because it is simply easier that way. But it also goes deeper than laziness or loyalty. A widespread disbelief in victims of sexual violence has a complex history, but a relatively simple cause: Society does not trust women.
One of the ugliest social practices, which is repeated throughout history, is the tendency of society to betray a woman when she most needs its support, trust, and solidarity.
And again, everyone says (people still ask me about Milena Radulović) why did she keep silent? So here, she said it, and what happened?
Victims are silent because they are not victims of a single crime. They are aware of the context they live in, they are aware of the power the perpetrator has, they are aware that his threats about her reputation, dignity, about the truth she is saying are very real. They saw what other women who talked about violence that happened to them went through. Women know that they will always be associated with the worst experience that happened to them. Women do not choose to be silent. Sometimes, they just don't have anyone who would make them feel heard and understood, so silence is their only option, but not a choice.