This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Nela Pietrová, one of the founding members of “Proč jsme to nenahlásili” (“Why we didn’t report it”), a Czech student initiative sharing stories of victims of sexual abuse and raising awareness on the always-too-topical issue of sexual violence in Czech society.
How was the project first launched? What’s the origin story?
Although it was long in the process of making – we all got together around a year ago – the project was officially launched during the 16 Days of Action against Violence on Women, at the end of November 2020, under the support wing of proFem, with whom we no longer cooperate on official bases. Our founder, Jakub, was originally inspired by the U.S.-based Instagram page “Why I didn’t report”, where victims/survivors of sexual violence share their authentic, handwritten stories on a piece of paper.
We found it very moving and striking and decided to emulate their approach here in the Czech Republic. We believe that our project has since evolved far beyond this inspiration: we now aim to function not only as a place where you can share your story, but also as a mediator to access professional help. Another part that we focus on strongly is well-researched educational posts and infographics, and we will soon launch several educational projects, in collaboration with young Czech artists.
Who’s behind “Proč jsme to nenahlásili”?
We are a group of six students, all from various backgrounds. Jakub, the founder of our initiative, studies production; Kristýna studies psychology and is actively involved in other project fighting against sexual violence; Judita studies cultural history and specialises in queer history, while Anastasia studies graphic design and is responsible for our visual identity, and I study intermedia art. Diana, our newest member, is currently applying for a psychology course. We all bring a different skillset and everything comes together nicely thanks to the diversity of our approaches and backgrounds.
How do you gather and select the testimonies you end up publishing?
We gather testimonies through an anonymous questionnaire on our website, where victims/survivors of sexual violence can choose from different options: they can share only the reason for why they did not report the crime, tell their full story, or, if they wish, they can just confide in us and remain unpublished. We always believe the survivors, and, therefore, we do not subdue the stories to any selection, we simply share everything, as long as it is from the perspective of the victim/survivor, not the rapist/abuser. Since the beginning, we’ve gathered over 650 testimonies and shared around 230 so far, one story per day.
Based on the testimonies you received, what are the most common reasons for Czech women not to report cases when they were sexually harassed or abused?
Many women are not even aware that they have been mistreated in a way that could be classified as sexual-based violence, they just have a strong sense of injustice with, in most cases, long-lasting negative consequences. Some women only realise that they are survivors of sexual abuse after reading hundreds of similar stories. The reason for this is that our society has a certain stereotypical idea about rape and sexual abuse – that it happens at night, in the park, with a stranger, that the victim is always a woman. But the statistics tell a very different story – 80% of all sexual violence happens in relationships, marriages, within families and among friends. Men are also victims and are much less likely to report it, since it is a massive taboo.
The other reason worth mentioning is the kind of reaction they get from the people they choose to confide in – if they ever do. Frequently enough we see that the victims/survivors were treated with disrespect, they were victim-blamed or mocked, manipulated into believing that nothing serious has happened. It is all due to the deeply-rooted rape culture that some still choose to cultivate here in the Czech Republic.
From your experience, how could this lack of reporting be addressed and improved?
We believe that the problem is not only societal, but also institutional. People generally do not trust the police and other law enforcement authorities, and there’s a reason for that. Only a small fraction of reported sexual violence offenders are sent to jail. Just to paint a quick picture here: there are an estimated 7,000 to 15,000 rapes committed in the Czech Republic every year, only 8% of those rapes are reported, and out of those only 2% of offenders are punished, mostly with a probation. This is not exactly motivating victims of sexual abuse to report the crime, further considering the fact that they’re often mistreated during the investigation itself. In our other project, we collect stories from victims/survivors who have reported the crime, and these are mostly negative experiences. So, reforming the institutions that deal with these matters is important in order to gain the trust of the public to report such crimes.
Another much-needed reform is within the education system. There is a lack of any constructive sexual education, no discussion about consent whatsoever. We need to start talking openly about sex and sexual violence and stop repeating the same old myths over and over again, like the one where the woman needs to be “conquered”, and therefore saying “no” is actually a “yes”.
Do you work, in some cases, as an intermediary with Czech police or some NGOs, to ensure a legal follow-up of the cases of rape or abuse?
No, we are not professionals and therefore play no role in legal investigations.
The topic has come to the forefront with the accusations against Dominik Feri. Have you noticed any change in attitude or awareness on the issue of sexual harassment since then?
Of course, the case of Dominik Feri has opened a national debate, which is great. Even mainstream media have covered this topic. Things are definitely shifting, we could observe a chain reaction of events, such as art students in FaVU in Brno speaking up against their tutor for unacceptable behaviour, leading to his resignation, or students of DAMU voicing their concerns about the sometimes-brutal practices of tutors, and many more.
The two weeks after the articles on Dominik Feri were published were intense, we got a lot of new audience and, sadly, many new stories. But our initiative functions as a library of reasons for not reporting the crime, and therefore works perfectly in debates raging online. Dominik Feri was the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more highly established men that behave in despicable ways and abuse their position of power. Many of whom are the ones leading the institutions in which we should trust to pursue justice and accountability. Hopefully this newly-gained awareness will last long enough to call them all out.
To learn more about Nela and her team’s inspiring initiative and read other stories of victims of sexual abuse in the Czech Republic, be sure to visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.