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Debate about stricter sexual criminal law

A young woman is brutally raped and dies shortly afterwards. The crime shocked Poland. Many people take to the streets in Warsaw and demand that sexual criminal laws be tightened – and that society rethinks things.

Martin Adam

The candles are still burning. A mountain of flowers lies in front of the house entrance on Żurawia Street, a few meters away from the busy Warsaw city center. Someone stuck a message on the wall: “Liza – killed by violence and indifference.”

Liza was 25 years old. Almost two weeks ago, she was on her way home in the early hours of the morning when a man attacked her, dragged her into a doorway, choked her and brutally raped her. The young woman from Belarus died in hospital a few days later.

Mourners lay flowers and light candles at the crime scene

The crime shocked many people in Poland. The author Karolina Sulej organized a funeral march through the capital with other women.

“This march is taking place to remember Liza, but also to protest against this culture of rape in which we live. This culture includes not only such tragic incidents as in this doorway, this terrible human catastrophe, but also everyday behavior.”

Combat “culture of violence”.

Women grow up in this culture of violence, breathe it in every day like air, and action must be taken against it, says Sulej: in schools, at home, in the media – and now also in parliament.

In fact, the brutal rape in Warsaw also woke up Polish politics. For years, women's rights activists have been calling for the outdated Polish sexual criminal law to be adjusted, says MP from the co-ruling KO party, Monika Rosa.

In Poland, it is estimated that only one in five rapes is reported and only one in four proceedings ends with the crime being confirmed. “And rape simply occurs when there is no consent for sex,” says Rose, “but the definition that was established almost 100 years ago assumes consent for sex.”

Victims often have the burden of proof

In court this often means: For the act to be considered rape, it must be accompanied by a threat, deception or violence, says Rosa. If a person did not defend themselves or could not defend themselves, the perpetrator can hardly be prosecuted. “So if we even have the courage to report the crime, the prosecutor's focus is on the extent to which we can prove that we really didn't want the sex.”

Poland has also signed the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention of Violence Against Women – but without adapting criminal law. Instead, in 2020, the PiS party, which had been in power until recently, called for withdrawing from the convention. The argument at the time was that an intact family offered the best protection.

Parliament discusses modernization of the Sexual Offenses Law

The withdrawal has now stopped and this week the Sejm, the Polish parliament, began discussing the modernization of sexual criminal law.

Liza's alleged rapist and murderer was arrested shortly after the crime. Surveillance cameras caught him. The recordings also show other people who were on the street. It is unclear whether they noticed the crime. In any case, no one helped Liza.

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