Joint statement of women-human rights activists from the Balkan region toward gender-based violence on the Internet

We, women human rights activists from the Balkans, stand together in solidarity with all women victims of digital gender-based violence, and demand from relevant institutions to act in accordance with their jurisdiction, thoroughly and promptly investigate the case of groups on the Telegram platform (such as: Balkan Room, Public Room, GevgelijaHub, Serbian Room, Smokva, etc.), in order to sanction the perpetrators and protect the victims from further victimization.

Exactly one year after the appearance of such a group on Telegram in North Macedonia, which was used for sexual harassment of girls and women by posting their photos as well as the victims’ personal data in a pornographic context without their consent, we witness new cases of this kind of abuse not only in North Macedonia, but in the entire region. Although the administrators and creators of two such groups have been arrested, we believe this is only the first step in accessing justice that must be guaranteed to all victims of this and similar criminal offenses.

We welcome the reaction of competent bodies to cases of online child abuse. However, the silence of institutions sends a clear message that violence against women is tolerated, that it is not punishable, which additionally encourages perpetrators to continue with this behavior, and leaves victims intimidated, ashamed and silenced.

The abovementioned cases in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia have shown that only a small number of perpetrators are prosecuted, and that they are charged with “production and distribution of child pornography”, which prevents the protection of adult victims.

Women from the countries of former Yugoslavia, whom we have been providing with free legal aid and other services for years, have experienced and testified to numerous shortcomings in such proceedings. Often, women who suffer sexual abuse online deal with inadequate response of institutions, do not trust the police, and feel that reporting abuse would be in vain due to practices of inaction, disbelief and relativization of the victims’ experiences.

Imposing misdemeanor sanctions and warnings, instead of documented and reasoned criminal charges, as well as inadequate enforcement of restraining orders, results in continuous and intensified violence, often followed by serious consequences for the victims’ health, which in some cases may even cause death.

Regarding the Public Prosecutors' Offices, we often notice postponed initiation of indictments, inefficient or negligent management of pre-investigation and investigative procedures that result in lack of, or untimely, provision of relevant evidence, as well as failure to take measures against the perpetrators to prevent continued violence against women. All of these institutional oversights have become even more visible with the emergence of sexual violence and harassment of women in the digital sphere, which, although it happens to thousands of female victims in the Balkans, does not receive an adequate institutional response, nor public support. On the contrary, dominant narratives women face today consist of discrediting their experiences, victim-blaming, humiliation, and revictimization. It is obvious that the silence of institutions additionally encourages functioning of such groups in the digital space, while girls and women are facing danger for their personal safety, which undermines their dignity and affects their health. Unfortunately, the easiest way to humiliate a woman is to portray her in a "sexual context", which only speaks of the insurmountable stigma that still marks female sexuality as shameful and indecent, and labels victims as "women who asked for IT themselves”.

In such a way, stolen photographs, combined with sexist and threatening comments, and the treatment of women as objects without integrity, feelings, desires and traumas, speak of serious, deeply rooted misogynistic values in our region that must be comprehensively and radically addressed. But, in order to begin solving the issue, we must name it first. This is not an issue of personal data abuse, and it cannot be solved with such a limited approach. This is an issue of gender-based violence, with the purpose of humiliating, blackmailing, silencing and oppressing girls and women, and if it is not treated as such, the perpetrators will succeed in reaching their goal.

Today we are aware that there is a regional network of harassers, i.e. an open group whose members and administrators are from all of the Balkan countries, and whose goal is to humiliate and sexually harass women. Therefore, we demand from competent institutions to seriously and responsibly approach this social phenomenon which affect at least half of the population. We demand institutional cross-border cooperation, thorough investigation, and prosecution of all involved offenders from the region.

This case is a chance for institutions from the entire region to show that they stand for women’s rights and protection against gender-based violence, not just declaratively, but in practice! We ask the states to improve their legal framework, so that cases of digital gender-based violence are properly incriminated and prosecuted ex officio, we ask Public Prosecutors' Offices in the region to immediately and thoroughly investigate the cases of groups and perpetrators of criminal offenses on the social network Telegram. We also ask the Ministries of the Interior to continuously undertake preventive activities and put a stop to the existence of these and similar groups.

Together and solidary!

Associations / NGOs that signed the statement:

  2. Alternativni centar za devojke
  3. Autonomni ženski centar, Beograd
  5. Ženska pomoć sada - SOS telefon za žene i djecu žrtve nasilja
  6. Kolektiv mladih žena FEMIX
  7. Udruženje građana “Žene za mir”
  8. Udruženje "Žene juga" Pirot
  9. BeFem feministički kulturni centar
  10. Žene u crnom
  11. ROZA Udruženje za radna prava žena
  12. Rekonstrukcija Ženski fond
  13. Ženergija Hub
  14. Impuls Tutin
  15. Centar za ženske studije, Beograd
  16. Incest Trauma Centar - Beograd
  17. Kulturni centar DamaD
  18. Centar za podršku ženama, Kikinda
  19. UŽ TEUTA-TIM, Trstenik
  20. Udruženje građanki FemPlatz
  21. Ženski centar Šabac
  22. Fondacija CURE- Sarajevo
  23. Ženska soba - centar za seksualna prava
  24. Romski centar za žene i decu DAJE
  25. Centar za žene žrtve rata - ROSA
  26. a.B.e. Budi aktivna. Budi emancipiran.
  27. Ženska udruga IZVOR
  28. Udruženje Romkinja Osvit - Niš
  29. Udruga žena Romkinja u Hrvatskoj “”Bolja budućnost”
  30. Udruga žena Vukovar
  31. Ženska grupa Karlovac “Korak”
  32. Centar za devojke
  33. Sigurna ženska kuća
  34. Centar za razvoj zajednice LINK
  35. Udruga za ljudska prava i građansku participaciju PaRiter
  36. Udruženje žena Peščanik
  37. UG “ Romani cikna” Kruševac
  38. ...IZ KRUGA - VOJVODINA, Novi Sad
  39. SOS za žene i decu žrtve nasilja, Vlasotince
  40. Labris - organizacija za lezbejska ljudska prava
  41. PAOR- Panonska Antifašistička organizacija
  42. Centar za podršku i razvoj civilnog društva “DELFIN”
  43. Ženski centar Užice
  44. Inicijativa Verujem ti
  45. Bibija Romski ženski centar
  46. Inicijativa Nećemo Prećutati
  47. Centar za ženske studije, Zagreb
  48. Forum žena Prijepolja
  49. SOS Rijeka - centar za nenaslje i ljudska prava
  50. Udruga žena Nit
  51. Sigurna ženska kuća
  52. Udruga ”HERA” Križevci za zaštitu i promicanje ljudskih prava
  53. Ženska mreža BiH
  54. UŽ “SEKA” Goražde
  55. Fondacija “Lara”
  56. IN fondacija
  57. Inicijativa Građanke za ustavne promjene
  58. Centar ženskih prava
  59. Inicijativa građanki/na Mostar
  60. Helsinški parlament građana Banjaluka
  61. Fondacija Udružene Žene Banja luka
  62. Udruženje žena “Priroda” Bratunac
  63. NVO “SPES”
  64. Udruzenje žena Romkinja”Bolja buducnost” Tuzla
  65. Ženska romska mreža ”Uspjeh” Bosna i Hercegovina
  66. UG ToPeeR Doboj, Republika Srpska, BiH
  67. Udruženje “Uspešne žene Kostolca “ Republika Srbija
  68. Udruženje žena Fenomena
  69. Women's Rights Center (Centar za ženska prava)
  70. Human Right Action (Akcija za ljudska prava)
  71. ANIMA- Center for Peace Education (ANIMA - Centar za mirovno obrazovanje)
  72. SOS Hotline Berane (SOS Telefon Berane)
  73. SOS Hotline Podgorica (SOS Hotline Podgorica)
  74. Women's Safe House (Sigurna ženska kuća)
  75. Association of Youth with Disabilities (Udruženje mladih s hendikepom)
  76. NGO Juventas (NVO Juventas)
  77. NVO Spektra
  78. Центар за младински активизам ЦМА КРИК
  79. Здружение за дислексија АЈНШТАЈН 
  80. Здружение за одржлив развој СФЕРА Интернешнал Битола
  81. Здружение на граѓани - Младите можат
  82. Центар за едукација и развој – ЦЕД
  83. Европско здружение на студенти по право - ЕЛСА Македонија
  84. Здружение за мултикултурна интеграција Инклузија
  85. Здружение на правници ЛЕГАЛ Тинк
  86. Регионална ромска образовна младинска асоцијација
  87. Здружение СВТ Алумни Скопје
  88. Центар за интеркултурен дијалог
  89. Фондација за интернет и општество Метаморфозис
  90. Здружение на граѓани - Ромаверзитас 
  91. Лидери за едукација, активизам и развој
  92. Креактив 
  93. Секција на млади на Сојуз на синдикати на Македонија
  94. Здружение Станица П.Е.Т. Прилеп 
  95. Македонско здружение на млади правници 
  96. Опции за здрав живот - ХОПС / Healthy Options Project Skopje – HOPS
  97. Фондација Отворено општество - Македонија (ФООМ)
  98. СУБВЕРЗИВЕН ФРОНТ Скопје / Sexual and Gender Minorities Association SUBVERSIVE FRONT Skopje
  99. Младински образовен форум - МОФ / Youth Educational Forum – YEF
  100. The Menstrual Movement Skopje
  101. Здружение на правници Роми
  102. Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 
  103. Хелсиншки комитет за човекови права - Скопје / Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia
  104. Коалиција Маргини / Coalition Margins
  105. Здружение на граѓани за промоција на женската активност Тиииит! Инк. - Скопје / Tiiiit! Inc. – Skopje
  106. Здружение за локален и рурален развој / Association for Local and Rural Development
  107. ЛезФем / LezFem
  108. Организација на жените на општина Свети Николе / Organization of Women of the Municipality of Sveti Nikole
  109. Здружение за едукативен развој - Еквалис / Association for Educational Development – Ekvalis
  110. Хуманитарно Здружение „Мајка“, Куманово / Humanitarian association “Mother”, Kumanovo 
  111. ТАКТ / TAKT - Together Advancing Common Trust
  112. Рурална коалиција / Rural Coalition
  113. Реактор - Истражување во акција / Reactor - Research in Action 
  114. Национален совет за родова рамноправност (СОЖМ)
  115. Мрежа Стела / Stella Network
  116. ХЕРА / Health Education and Research Association, HERA
  117. Акција Здруженска / Akcija Zdruzenska
  118. Здружение на граѓани за еднакви можности „СЕМПЕР, Битола / “Association of equal opportunities “SEMPER”, Bitola
  119. Женски Форум Тетово / Women’s Forum Tetovo
  120. Женска граѓанска иницијатива АНТИКО / Women's Civic Initiative – “ANTICO”
  121. Националната Мрежа против насилство врз жените и семејно насилство
  122. Здружение за локален развој - Камењане / Association for Local Rural Development – Kamenjane
  123. Здружение за промоција на статусот на жените во македонија „Женска акција“, Радивиш / Association for Promotion of the Status of Women in Macedonia "Women's Action", Radovish
  124. Здружение на граѓани „СУМНАЛ / “Association of Citizens "SUMNAL"
  125. Здружение на граѓани „Флоренс Најтингел“, Куманово/ Association of Citizens “Florence Nightingale”, Kumanovo
  126. Здружение на социјални работници на Град Скопје / Association of Social Workers of the City of Skopje
  127. Кризен центар „Надеж“ / Crisis Center "Hope"
  128. Здружение на турчинки во Македонија, „ДЕРЈА“ / Organization of Turkish Women in Macedonia,“DERJA”
  129. Организација на жени на Град Скопје, ОЖС / Organization of Women of the City of Skopje, OZS
  130. Организација на жени „Кумановка“, Куманово / Organization of Women "Kumanovka" , Kumanovo
  131. Организација на жени на Општина Велес / Organization of women from the municipality of Veles
  132. Женска граѓанска иницијатива „КЛЕА“, Битола / Women's Civic Initiative "KLEA" – Bitola
  133. Младински центар за еднакви можности / Youth Center for Equal Opportunities
  134. „Една може“ Скопје / “One Can” Skopje
  135. Здружение за родова еднаквост „Визија“, Кавадарци / Association for Gender Equality „Vision“, Kavadarci
  136. Комора на психолози на Република Северна Македонија / Chamber of Psychologists in Republic of North Macedonia
  137. Здружение на жени ромки и млади „Лулуди“ / Roma Women and Youth Association "Luludi"
  138. Скај Плус Струмица / Sky Plus Strumica
  139. Медуза - феминистичка платформа / Meduza - Feminist platform
  140. BIRN – Balkanska istraživačka regionalna mreža
  141. AEPA Asocijacija pravnika Srbija

*The statement was initially signed by 139 organizations, but more organizations joined later on.