The definition of rape from almost a hundred years ago. Women are fighting for change
Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock
The lack of informed consent to sexual intercourse already means that a crime of rape has occurred in several European Union countries. Meanwhile, the Polish Penal Code still contains an archaic definition of rape that dates back to the 1930s. MPs from the Left want a change in line with the provisions of the so-called the Istanbul Convention, which Poland ratified in 2015. – The lack of freely expressed consent to sexual intercourse should be the basis for criminal liability, Poland is lagging behind Europe – argues MP Anita Kucharska-Dziedzic. The draft amendment to the act is ready. When will it come into force?
Wrocław, end of October last year. The court sentenced a gynecologist for raping a 19-year-old patient and molesting another to two years in prison, suspended for four years and supervised by a probation officer. The judgment is invalid. Even though a criminal case had been pending against the gynecologist for three years, in November last year he treated at the University Clinical Hospital and conducted classes with female and medical students at the Medical University of Wrocław. Both institutions claimed that they had no information about the prosecutor’s office investigation.
Łódź, May 2023. The trial of a former employee of the Łódź Film School, accused of raping a woman during an event organized by the university, begins. The film authorities informed the prosecutor’s office about the incident. The suspect was dismissed from work under disciplinary procedure. He doesn’t feel guilty. – There was certainly no incident that could be classified as rape. In his explanations, the accused will present his position. His view is completely different than the content of the charge brought by the prosecutor’s office, said his defense lawyer Maciej Lenart in the court corridor.
These are just two cases from last year that were widely reported in the media. It should be noted, however, that such crimes committed by strangers rarely occur. According to the 2016 report of the Foundation for Equality and Emancipation STER entitled “Breaking the taboo – rights of victims of sexual violence in Poland”, assault by a stranger accounts for only 8 percent of all reports. More than 80 percent of rape survivors knew their perpetrator (22 percent of women experienced rape by a partner and 63 percent by a former partner). Sexual violence most often occurs in one’s own home, with 55 percent of rapes occurring there.
Among other things, the fact that the injured person knows the rapist contributes to the low reporting of crimes
The STER Foundation’s report also highlights other reasons why victims do not report rape to the police or prosecutor’s office. It is mainly fear, shame, and the belief that no one will believe the injured person. But there is also another reason – the archaic legal definition of the crime of rape. Very often it happens that the event cannot be classified as rape because it does not meet the definition in the Penal Code.
– For example, this happens when the injured person did not actively defend themselves. Yet we know that many people who have experienced rape are in a state of paralysis and body freezing due to fear, which makes it impossible to defend themselves or scream, explains Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar, spokeswoman for counteracting violence against women at the Feminoteka Foundation.
Informed consent and a record dating back almost a hundred years
Experts believe that the low reporting of sexual crimes results not only from the victim’s shame or fear of secondary victimization, i.e. being blamed for the incident, but also that in legal terms the definition of rape itself is insufficient.
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