Is sex with minors becoming the accepted norm?

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The case of a 13-year-old girl who was abused for over a year by the father of her closest friend and recently gave birth to a baby has shocked the nation. On Wednesday the man walked out of court with a three-year suspended sentence – a fact that has children’s rights activists ringing alarm bells and claiming that Czech courts are sending a dangerous signal to potential abusers.

Ladislav Kupčík, photo: CTK
Thirty-five-year-old Ladislav Kupčík walked out of court with a three-year suspended sentence although under Czech law the judge could have sent him to jail for up to eight years. The reason cited for the lenient verdict was that he had fully admitted his guilt, cooperated with the police and had a clean criminal record. The fact that a man found guilty of abusing an underage girl for over a year has not been sent to prison is not unusual in the Czech Republic. In a recent highly publicized court-case the former choirmaster of Bambini di Praga Bohumil Kulínský, found guilty of abusing a number of underage girls, was also handed a suspended sentence. Several appeals failed to overturn this verdict and so it is hardly surprising that in this case the girl’s parents have waived the right to appeal. The head of the Children at Risk Fund Marie Vodičková says that in showing such leniency Czech courts are sending a dangerous message to potential abusers.

“This is not sending out the right signal at all. It suggests that the Czech Republic is not prepared to punish abusers and by so doing protect children from molestation, despite the fact that it is obliged to do so by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I would say that the punishments meted out by Czech courts for sexual abuse of underage children are the most lenient in the world.”

Since the 1990s, sentences for having sex with minors have been getting milder. Of all the cases that come to court – 50 percent of suspects are found not-guilty, thirty five percent are given a suspended sentence and only 15 percent of them actually go to jail. The main “guilt criteria” which lands abusers in prison is when medical tests indicate that they are pedophiles. In cases where minors agree to have sex, offenders are generally let off the hook. Marie Vodičková says that this is an extremely dangerous trend.

“This leniency suggests that having sex with an underage child is not a serious offense. And sometimes you hear that a girl led someone on – well, even if she had done, she is still a child, a child who has a right to legal protection and the adult should know better. Many of these children suffer serious psychological damage later in life. There have even been suicide attempts in some cases. And if you allow 85 percent of abusers to get away with it, then you will not prevent others from doing the same.”

Opinion surveys indicate that there is growing public dissatisfaction with such verdicts. In a poll conducted by the internet news site aktualne.cz, regarding this most recent case, 83 percent of respondents said the man should have been sent to jail. However the chances that public opinion will make an impact on future verdicts are slim and the Fund for Children at Risk feels that in such cases there is little effective action it can take apart from prevention and media campaigns.