STA, 6 October 2020 - Every fifth Slovenian was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, shows a recent survey commissioned by the Justice Ministry. Minister Lilijana Kozlovič announced on Tuesday that a bill enabling the country's first Barnahus for child victims of sexual abuse would be likely passed in 2021.
Slovenia has been striving to ensure a way for children involved in criminal procedures to avoid any potential victimisation in the future, said Kozlovič at today's press conference.
A step closer to this objective is setting up Children's House, a special institute where children who have been victims of sexual abuse or other criminal offences or have witnessed them would be treated holistically in line with the internationally established Barnahus model.
The project encompasses more than simply opening a few special facilities for child victims of sexual abuse; it also aims to amend relevant procedures and change attitudes of all who come in contact with abused children, the minister said.
As part of the project, which is held under the auspices of the European Commissions and the Council of Europe, the ministry also commissioned the survey, which aimed to assess the understanding of the issue among children themselves as well as adults and their response mechanisms to sexual abuse.
The results will serve as a way to provide services at Children's House which would be tailor-made for children and their parents.
The survey, conducted by the Ipsos social research institute, shows that the majority of Slovenians (almost 70%) think that child sexual abuse is a grave issue, however half of the respondents do not believe they would recognise the signs of such offences.
What is even more concerning is that many apply a very narrow definition to child sexual abuse. A third believe that it always involves a level of physical force and do not deem other types of sexual abuse what they actually are - sexual abuse.
A quarter of Slovenians also believe that exposing children to sex and pornography is not abuse, warned Nataša Mohorč Kejžar, the head of Ipsos.
Moreover, sexual abuse is a topic that Slovenians prefer to avoid - more than third of adults have not discussed it with their children, with most of them expecting schools to address the subject.
Another cause for concern is that 15% of the respondents think that victims are responsible for their actions. They perpetuate the harmful stereotype of a girl who is to be blamed for being abused due to the clothes she wears or her conduct.
One in five Slovenians experienced at least one type of sexual abuse in childhood, whereas one in seven experienced two or more.
In most cases, the respondents said that they had been victims of inappropriate touching or displays. Merely 6% pressed criminal charges, half of those went to court. One in four such cases saw trial without conviction, said Mohorč Kejžar.
The survey also inquired about the expectations for Children's House. Children mostly wish it would be a place where their stories would be heard and believed, whereas parents expect a safe space, professional services and immediate support.
Both children and parents deem it important that psychological support is available as well as support by the police and other health workers.
The minister said today that a facility which is to host Slovenia's first Barnahus had already been selected. She also pointed out that another project setting up a network of support centres for children in general across the country would follow the Barnahus project.
Mirka Honko of the Council of Europe's Children's Rights division meanwhile expressed support for Slovenia's Barnahus project, calling it a flagship project in Europe and hoping it would inspire other member states to follow suit.
The full report on child abuse in Slovenia can be read here
STA, 2 September 2020 - Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has invited Slovenia in a letter to join Poland in withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, the newspaper Delo reported on Wednesday.
Poland, which finds the treaty "harmful" because it requires schools to teach children about gender, proposed to Slovenia that a new convention be drawn up.
Several versions of the new convention were reportedly mentioned, including one that would promote protection of children in the face of moral corruption and the definition of a child based on the 1989 UN convention but with an addition that the child's life starts at conception.
It would also include a definition of the family as exclusively one consisting of a father, mother and a child or children, and the possibility of marriage only between a man and woman.
Ziobro has labelled the Istanbul Convention a feminist invention that wants to justify homosexual ideology. He announced Poland's intention to withdraw from the convention at the end of July, thus causing a stir both in Poland and abroad.
Thousands of Polish people gathered at protests around the country, and the EU and the Council of Europe expressed regret at the decision.
The Istanbul Convention is the first internationally binding instrument for prevention of violence against women, from rape to domestic violence and genital mutilation. It has been drawn up by the Council of Europe, the oldest human rights organisation in Europe.
Slovenia signed the convention in 2011 and ratified it in 2015, the same year as Poland.
In Slovenia, 80 MPs of the 90-member parliament voted in favour of the ratification. The EU signed the convention in June 2017.
After signing the convention, Slovenia amended the act on preventing domestic violence and explicitly banned corporal punishment of children.
The government has not stated its opinion on the convention yet, but MP of the ruling Democrats (SDS) Branko Grims, who according to Delo voted in favour of the ratification in 2014, commented on Poland's announcement on Twitter in July by saying that Slovenia too should withdraw from the convention.
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry told the STA later in the day that it had received Poland's letter. However, the ministry sees no reason to withdraw from the convention or to amend it, a stance which has been made clear to Poland as well.
The ministry received the letter on 25 August and its reply reads that the convention is an important international legal instrument regarding preventing and tackling domestic violence and violence against women.
"The ministry believes that the convention sets good foundations for facing societal challenges and paves the way for values, such as equality and decency for all our citizens," said the ministry, adding that international law, EU law and Slovenia's law ensure appropriate legal frameworks in this area.
Hence, the ministry does not see any reason to come up with a different treaty. Moreover, changes proposed by Poland would entail amendments to Slovenia's law and constitution.
The letter has been sent to the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal opportunities, said the Justice Ministry, since it concerns relevant issues for the former ministry as well.
The Modern Centre Party (SMC), of which Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič is a member, said earlier that withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention would be unacceptable.
"Slovenia as a state should not be even considering that," said Janja Sluga of the SMC, highlighting that the convention primarily aimed to ensure a Europe without violence against women and children and to protect decency and equality of all citizens.
Poland's initiative jeopardises Slovenia's constitutional and legal system, she said, adding that it would push us back to the dark times when women and children's abuse was a norm.
Asked whether the government could withdraw from the convention on its own even though it was parliament who had ratified it, she said that the question should be addressed to parliament.
Siol.net reports that the public debate on changes to Slovenia’s rape law has now concluded, with support for adopting a definition based on consent in place of the current system. The proposed amendment will now go back to the Ministry of Justice where the final version will be prepared before being presented to the National Assembly for a vote.
The current law in Slovenia defines rape based on coercion, and thus if no force is used, or the victim is unwilling or unable to say “no”, then no crime is said to have been committed. This attracted considerable attention in early 2019, when a man who raped a woman was charged with criminal coercion rather than a sex crime, because the woman, passed out drunk in the man's apartment, did not - and could not - resist. The man, from Koper, received a 10-month sentence.
The proposed changes would make every non-consensual sexual act a criminal offence, including those during which the victim did not physically resist the perpetrator or say no out of fear, shock or any other circumstances preventing such action.
STA, 22 July 2020 - After a year and a half of calls for redefining rape in the penal code, the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday that legislative changes had been drafted. Their aim is to embed the consent standard in criminal law.
The changes would make every non-consensual sexual act a punishable offence, including those during which the victim did not physically resist the perpetrator or say no out of fear or shock or any other circumstances preventing such action
The amendments thus enable a transition from the coercion-based definition of rape to the consent-based standard, including the affirmative consent and veto models. Coercion or force would become aggravating circumstances.
The ministry's statement came in response to claims by a feminist NGO, March 8 Institute, that in a year and a half no progress had been made to amend the definition of rape in the penal code.
The ministry said this was not the case as it had held meetings with a number of NGOs, the most recent one in June, with all the participants agreeing that the consent-based standard had to be implemented.
But in response, 8 March Institute pointed out that the participating NGOs had insisted to scrap the veto model and enforce only the affirmative consent standard, known as "only yes means yes", which the ministry did not green-light.
In January 2019, March 8 Institute launched a petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, demanding a redefinition of rape. The effort came as a response to a court case in which a man was acquitted of rape because the victim was asleep and unable to resist.
The public consultation period for the amendments runs until 25 August.
STA, 5 March 2020 - The National Assembly unanimously endorsed amendments to the penal code on Thursday to extend the statute of limitations for gravest sexual offences to between 30 and 90 years.
The amendments, proposed by New Slovenia (NSi) in a bid to establish a zero-tolerance policy on sexual offences, were backed by 86 votes to none.
Under the existing penal code, such criminal acts become statute-barred in 10 to 30 years, depending on the length of the prison sentence the offence carries.
The outgoing government, which had been planning more extensive changes in the area, agreed with the proposal as well.
The legislators also backed the Democrats (SDS)-sponsored proposal to set down that the constitutional review procedure, launched by at least a third of MPs, would continue even if the MPs' terms are terminated in the meantime. Moreover, parliament
The amendment to the constitutional court act won the backing of 88 votes, with none against it.
Under the current solution, in case the procedure's initiators lost their MP status and the number of them fell below a third of all MPs (30), the Constitutional Court would put a stop to the procedure.
Many review claims had been thus dropped because the court did not hand down a ruling before the end of the National Assembly term.
Parliament also endorsed an amendment to the property code law in a 47:37 vote to introduce a new definition of animals - they are no longer things, but sentient living beings.
STA, 6 February 2020 - The parliamentary Justice Committee unanimously decided on Thursday to table an amended proposal to change the sexual abuse provisions of the penal code. The reform, proposed by New Slovenia (NSi), envisages the statute of limitations for gravest sexual offences to be tripled.
According to the initial NSi proposal, sex offences would never become statute-barred, with the party aiming to help establish a zero-tolerance policy on such acts.
Under the existing penal code, such criminal acts fall under the statute of limitations in 10 to 30 years, depending on the expected prison sentence.
After submitting the proposal, NSi acknowledged that different types of sexual violence should fall under different statute of limitations categories and tabled the amended document, envisaging gravest sexual offences to become statute-barred in 30 to 90 years.
The parliamentary legal service said that the party had thus acknowledged its reservations.
Justice Minister Andreja Katič said that the outgoing caretaker government agreed with the proposal as well, adding that such changes had been already planned by the ministry.
She highlighted that a task force at the ministry had been drafting more extensive changes to the penal code, also in relation to sexual offences.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court judge Marjeta Švab Širok called for the issue to be tackled as part of a systemic reform of criminal law.
STA, 18 January 2020 - Ljubljana Archbishop Stanislav Zore called on sexual abuse victims within the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church to report the crimes and dismissed accusations of Church inactivity, as he spoke for the Odmevi news show on Friday evening.
Urging the victims to report abuse cases, Zore said that such actions would help "remove all that does not belong in the Church".
The Dovolj.je (It's Enough) NGO, a Catholic civil society group dedicated to fighting sexual abuse in the Church, has recently accused the institution of its persistent failure to tackle sexual abuse allegations against members of the clergy or even its systemic cover-up.
The group has thus urged a couple of senior clerics to step down, including Zore, Slovenia's top cleric.
Zore said that such accusations were general statements reflecting an exaggerated reaction, since the Church had been active in addressing the issue.
He pointed out that it had dealt with every single case that was brought to its knowledge, involving the police and providing support for the victims.
The Ljubljana archbishop stressed that there had not been any reports of alleged cover-ups, adding that the Ljubljana Archdiocese had received a couple of sexual abuse reports since the summer.
Zore said that the issue had been weighing him down, since it was difficult to carry the burden and faith of the victims, their abuse and turmoil, but he was also burdened by the faith of the perpetrators since the Church had to take care of those priests as well.
"You cannot just simply write them off," he said, adding that the situation had tarnished the reputation of innocent priests as well.
Igor Vovk, a senior member of the Dovolj.je (It's Enough) group, told the press this week that the Church kept adopting and updating recommendations on how church workers should deal with allegations of sexual abuse, but "everything remains dead ink on paper".
The only one who has seriously dealt with the situation so far is Murska Sobota Archbishop Peter Štumpf, who stripped a priest of his status upon finding out he has been accused of sexual abuse, Vovk added.
Štumpf expressed support for Zore this week, though, declaring that "if Archbishop Zore resigns, Archbishop Štumpf resigns as well" and praising Zore's efforts in tackling the issue.
STA, 15 January 2020 - A Catholic civil society group dedicated to fighting sexual abuse in the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church has called for the resignation of Slovenia's most senior cleric, Ljubljana Archbishop Stanislav Zore, due to the church's persistent failure to tackle sexual abuse allegations against members of the clergy.
The church keeps adopting and updating recommendations on how church workers should deal with allegations of sexual abuse, but "everything remains dead ink on paper", said Igor Vovk, a senior member of the Dovolj.je (It's Enough) group and director of the Catholic pro-life NGO Zavod Iskreni.
The group has so far received 38 reports by victims against 22 priests. And while some have been handled adequately, in particular in the Murska Sobota Diocese, others continue to be ignored, it said.
It highlighted the case of priest Jože Planinšek, the director of the pastoral and youth centre Saint Joseph Home in Celje, who had been reported by five victims for sexual assault dating between 1990 and 2010. "He is still doing his job as if nothing has happened," priest Janez Cerar said.
Roman Završek, an attorney, said five criminal charges had been filed against the priest. Four have been thrown out due to the statute of limitations and one is still being processed.
The group had asked the Slovenian Lazarists, of which he is a member, to ignore the statute of limitations in internal church procedures but the request has been ignored. It has therefore urged the head of the Slovenian Lazarists, Tomaž Mavrič, to step down as well.
In general, a lot of cases of sexual abuse have become statute-barred under church law, which is why Dovolj.je is urging the church to ignore the statute of limitations at least in the specific cases brought to their attention.
Dovolj.je also wants the church to disband its task force for the resolution of sexual abuse claims since it is not doing its job and is trying to downplay the allegations. Instead, the Slovenian Bishops' Conference should form an independent commission with lay members.
The Slovenian Bishops' Conference rejected the call for the archbishop's resignation as "unfounded" and said it was under his chairmanship of the conference that the church has continued taking action against sexual abuse.
It listed instructions on zero-tolerance to sexual abuse adopted in April 2019 and recently updated guidelines for conduct in the event of sexual abuse claims which require that bishops report any suspicion of sexual abuse to law enforcement - precisely the guidelines that Dovolj.je labelled as dead ink on paper - as important steps in this direction.
All our stories on rape in Slovenia can be found here
STA, 25 December 2019 - Almost two years after a feminist NGO launched #jaztudi, the Slovenian version of the #metoo campaign, the rate with which victims are sharing their stories has come to a steady trickle. Nevertheless, the campaign has left an indelible mark in society. Not only has it raised awareness about consent and inequality, it has spurred legislative change.
Nika Kovač, the president of March 8 Institute, which launched the campaign in March 2018, believes that the campaign broached broader issues of gender inequality. "I feel that addressing issues of gender inequality raised awareness [about inequality] in general."
A vital shift has taken place, Kovač said. "It has become clear that sexual violence and harassment are pervasive in our society, albeit often unseen," and the campaign created room to address sexual violence in a better and fairer way.
The testimonies reflect the normalisation of sexual harassment in society to the extent that victims feel like they are being overly sensitive for sharing their stories, says Kovač.
Many seem to downplay the severity of what they had suffered, as if sexual violence were normal, something not important enough to be raised to attention, although it was one of the most horrifying experiences of their lives.
In January 2018, the NGO launched a petition demanding a redefinition of rape in the penal code. The effort came as a response to a court case in which a man was acquitted of rape because the victim was asleep and unable to resist (with more details here).
More than 5,000 people signed the petition demanding that rape no longer be defined as a sexual act perpetrated by force but a sexual act perpetrated without consent.
"In response to the ruling ... the expert public, politicians and civil society joined forces in a wish to change unjust criminal legislation."
"The Ministry of Justice decided to redefine rape, I believe this is one of the biggest changes for the better made by the #jaztudi campaign," said Kovač.
Justice Minister Andreja Katič said at a debate on violence against women in late November that she wanted the penal code to change so as to penalise any sexual act without clear consent of both partners. The ministry is yet to present a draft of the legal changes.
Kovač said that the NGO was reserved about #metoo at first because of the sensationalism it caused in the US, where #metoo largely became a part of pop culture mainstream and failed to show different perspectives.
What is more, "in Slovenia, the [global] #metoo campaign did not trigger a spontaneous response it got in many countries around the world."
The March 8 Institute therefore decided to take a different approach and collect and post anonymous stories online, which are available at www.jaztudi.si. Victims can share their stories through the website, which also provides helpful links.
The response surpassed the NGO's expectations. It received more than 150 stories, and more are still coming in, albeit at a slower pace.
The stories collected show that sexual harassment often takes place in places that should be safe, like at home, at school, at the doctor's office.
Very often, the abusers are people close to the victim, people in position of power, coaches, teachers, superiors. "Testimonies also reveal that other people, who know what is happening, remain silent, dismissing or ignoring the problem."
Most of the victims who shared their stories were women, nine of them (6%) were men and one transsexual. 51.3% of the victims were abused as minors.
"The testimonies highlight the structure, the workings of a society that enables and reproduces sexual violence and harassment," said Kovač.
In the face of rising populism, members of the NGO have faced threats, but that comes with the territory, says Kovač, adding also that the campaign had not received negative press from mainstream media.
STA, 11 December 2019 - Opinions varied as stakeholders discussed a proposal from New Slovenia (NSi) for sex offences not to become statute-barred. While the NSi believes this would help victims who decide to speak about their experience at a later age, the justice minister argued victims should report such crimes as soon as possible.
Wednesday's debate on the parliamentary Justice Committee was opened by its vice-chair, Meira Hot of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), who said that the goal was to get a wide range of opinions on the proposal from the conservative opposition party.
Hot discussed a number of questions related to the topic, including how sex offences influence the long-term mental health of the victims, and how their age affects their ability to face such acts.
Justice Minister Andreja Katič said that a task force at the ministry was drafting more extensive changes to the penal code, also in relation to sexual offences.
Under the existing penal code, only genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity never become statute-barred. Other criminal acts fall under the statute of limitations in 10 to 30 years, depending on the envisaged prison sentence.
When it comes to criminal offences against sexual integrity, the time period after which an act becomes statute-batter starts after the victim reaches the age of 18.
Katič said that extending this period from 20 or 30 years alone would not contribute to a better status of the victim and would not solve the issue of proving a sexual offence.
"Our goal must be that victims report a criminal act as soon as possible," she said, warning against rushed and partial changes of legislation.
NSi leader and MP Matej Tonin meanwhile called for support for the proposal, which he sees as a "clear message that we are a society which has zero tolerance to such acts".
As the proposal was filed in July, Tonin also said the problem was that it took very long for the victims to speak about their experience. "When sexual abuse happens in early childhood, victims usually subconsciously suppress it.
"They are ready to face it perhaps only decades later, when it is too late in certain cases, as criminal acts become statute-barred," he added.
Violeta Neubauer of Women's Lobby of Slovenia said that the proposed change would not lead to the women experiencing sexual violence losing fear from reporting it.
Neubauer also believes the "police, prosecution and courts, or even lawyers, would change their manner of doing things so that victims would not experience secondary victimisation any more."
Katja Zabukovec Kerin of the Association for Non-Violent Communication added the elimination was not enough, and that the mindset and legal practice should also be changed.
"It's still believed paedophiles only like children too much. Education and awareness-raising is not enough. Legislation needs to be changed, right now," she added.
The NSi's proposal is supported by the Association Against Sexual Abuse. "This is only one of the needed measures in the prevention and prosecution of criminal acts against sexual integrity," said Manca Bizjak of the association.