Czech experts appeal for redefinition of rape to better protect victims

A discussion on a possible change to the definition of rape in the Czech legal system was held in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday. Many experts have been calling for a change, arguing that the current definition doesn’t effectively protect women against sexual violence.

Under the Czech Republic’s current legal system, non-consensual sex is considered a crime only if proven to have occurred under the threat or use of violence. Such a definition of rape has discouraged many victims from seeking justice in the past, experts say.

Among those who has been calling for a change of the legal definition is Veronika Ježková from the non-profit group proFem, who says it doesn’t sufficiently protect victims of rape.

“First of all, the Czech Criminal Code does not respond to cases when the victim finds herself in a so-called frozen fright and she is unable to adequately express her will or to defend herself against the perpetrator.

“Similarly, it does not respond to sexual practices without the victim’s consent in the absence of violence, threat of violence or threat of other serious harm.”

Veronika Ježková | Photo: ProFem

According to Mrs Ježková, the Czech legal system should follow the 2003 recommendation of the European Court of Human Rights, which urged EU member states to implement legal reforms concerning the definition of rape that would penalise non-consensual sexual acts whether or not the victim had resisted.

Several European states, including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, but also Ireland and the United Kingdom, have already implemented such changes.

Czechs are known for having a rather reserved stance to the #MeToo movement, and a large part of society still believes that the victim is partly to blame for the rape.

However, recent sexual scandals involving one of the country’s prominent psychiatrists Jan Cimický and former TOP09 MP Dominik Feri, who are both facing criminal prosecution for having committed rape, has stirred a debate.

Mrs Ježková says the current government is definitely in favour of the change, but she also stresses it is not going to take place overnight, as it requires a thorough discussion by the professional community:

“A discussion with representatives of the judiciary, law schools and other experts must take place to ensure that the redefinition is not implemented in haste and to the detriment of the victims. The step is huge, the change is huge, and I don’t think it is appropriate to rush it.”

According to Mrs Ježková, the change of the legal definition of rape should be accompanied by other changes in society, including education and the training of future judges, so that they use the legal tools effectively:

“It is also important that we raise public awareness of the problem, not only among law students but also among students and pupils at primary schools, so that confidence in sexual issues is embedded in them from a very young age.”