Breaking Taboo – the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence

The project “Breaking Taboo – the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence” was implemented by the Foundation for Equality and Emancipation STER in cooperation with the Association for Women VICTORIA from Rzeszów and the Association WAGA from Gdańsk in the framework of the program “Citizens for Democracy” supported by the EEA Grants. The project was carried out from March 2015 till the end of April 2016.

The main objective of the project was to raise knowledge and awareness about sexual violence against women, particularly about rape, which is experienced by women regardless their age, education, economic and social status and place of residence. We conducted quantitative research with a diverse group of women to get knowledge about the scale of sexual violence against women and qualitative research with women who experienced rape or attempted rape in their adult life. We evaluated also the efficiency of the new law on rape and rape prosecution that has been effective in Poland since 27 January 2014. Rape crime is now prosecuted ex officio (not at the victim’s request). We examined the extent to which the authorities, police officers and prosecutors are prepared to investigate and prosecute the crime of rape according to the new regulations. The monitoring part of the project included in-depth interviews with police officers and prosecutors, analysis of the statistical data regarding rape prosecutions and court sentences issued in the last couple of years.

The research conducted within the project became the basis for the theatre performance entitled “Rape. Voices” which was played in the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw in December 2015 during the annual campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. The play was directed by Agnieszka Błońska and the author of the play was Sylwia Chutnik, a feminist writer and activist.

The research outcomes were discussed at the conferences organized in Gdańsk (on 12 April, 2016), Rzeszów (on 14 April, 2016) and Warsaw (on 18 April 2016). The report containing the main findings and analyses is available in Polish and English on our website.

The project “Breaking Taboo – the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence” was coordinated by Agnieszka Grzybek, the research part was coordinated by dr. Magdalena Grabowska.

The data collected within the project speak for itself. Sexual violence experienced by women from men is a common experience of women who participated in our research. 87% of the women faced some form of sexual harassment, 62% experienced sexual activity against their will. 23% of the women have had experience of an attempted rape, and 22% of rape. In most cases of rape and attempted rape the perpetrator was a man known to the woman: her current (22%) or former partner (63%). The majority of cases of rape and attempted rape took place in private apartments (55%). On the one hand, the data collected during the research reveals large scale of sexual violence against women, and on the other hand, the “grey area” of sexual violence which is experienced in the family, never disclosed to relatives, authorities, and therapists. Our research demystifies the stereotype of rape that represents it as a rare incident that takes place in a secluded location and whose perpetrator is unknown.

The idea of combining quantitative and qualitative research was an innovative aspect of our project. Our research is the first research conducted in such a big scale after the new regulations on rape and rape prosecution were adopted. The data collected within the project allowed to evaluate the efficiency of the new law on rape prosecution and to what extent the expectations related to the new regulations have been met. The amendment to the Penal Code which abrogated the requirement of requesting rape prosecution procedure and the amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure which introduced the rule of a single examination of the victim by the court were aimed at improving the effectiveness of the rape crime prosecution and providing the victim with protection against so-called the secondary victimization during the police and court proceedings. We would like our report to be the starting point of a debate on social policies, the costs of sexual violence against women, and on the methodology of the research regarding gender-based violence and opportunities of cooperation between research institutions and non-governmental organizations. The recommendations listed in the report might improve the effectiveness of the rape crime prosecution and eliminate its weak points.

Wide social resonance of our project and vivid interest of media in the outcomes of our research prove that the initial goals of the project have been fully accomplished.