Dominik Feri’s resignation sparks heated debate on sexual harassment
The resignation of MP Dominik Feri, one of the most prominent figures in the TOP 09 party, following accusations of sexual assault and improper conduct by several women, has sparked a heated debate in the Czech Republic about sexual harassment and the country’s attitude to sexual violence.
Dominik Feri was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2017 at the age of 21, becoming the Czech Republic’s youngest and also the first ever black Member of Parliament.
He was supposed to run in the autumn election for the Together grouping of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, and TOP 09 as one of their top candidates in Prague.
Instead, the 24-year old politician and celebrity resigned on Tuesday just hours after the publication of articles in which he was accused of sexual assault. He also announced he would not run in October’s general elections so as to protect his party’s interests.
In a statement for the Czech News Agency, Feri rejected claims that he had committed rape, although he conceded that his behaviour may have been inappropriate at times and apologized for it, saying he would defend his name in court.
"I always wished politics to be different, based on personal responsibility. Now I want to set an example. I resign on my deputy’s mandate and will not take part in the autumn elections.
"I don’t want untrue and manipulative articles in the media to harm either the people close to me or my colleagues. I will defend against them in court."
The articles were published following a tweet earlier in May released by an anonymous Twitter account asking "why aren't the cases of Feri abusing girls being publicized?”
This Tuesday, the daily Denik N and the news site Alarm published testimonies of a number of women, who reported that Feri behaved sexually inappropriately toward them between the years 2015 and 2020.
Eight anonymous female students accused him of sexual assault, while others said he made sexually offensive statements in public or requested naked photos.
In a country with a very low resonance of the #MeToo campaign, where a large part of the society still believes that the victim is partly to blame for the rape, the news triggered a heated debate.
While most politicians, including his party colleagues, have welcomed his resignation, there were also some who questioned the credibility of the victims, suggesting the news was timed to coincide with the election campaign.
However, journalist Apolena Rychlíková, who investigated the case, says that in a country where only around five percent of women report rape, the victims simply feared they wouldn’t be believed:
“It is important to point out that Dominik Feri is something of a celebrity and has a huge social capital. If you are very young, say 17 or 19 years old, and something like this happens to you, it is very difficult to stand up for yourself and confront the person, let alone report it to the police.”
Dominik Feri was not only a prominent politician, but also a powerful public influencer, whose Instagram account attracted over a million followers, especially from the young generation. Experts says this incident may not only harm his own party, but it may also undermine young voters’ trust in politicians in general.