Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovak police’s recommendations for women to avoid being raped, published on its official website, sparked anger among women’s rights activists, Euractiv reported earlier this week.
Among a series of advice, Slovak women are told to avoid dark and isolated places at night, not attend parties involving alcohol and drugs as these substances can “spark violent behaviour”, and not “give mixed sexual signals and provoke unnecessarily.”
“Don’t provoke men” and “take back control of your life”
The website additionally gives other recommendations on actions to take if one witnesses a rape, or for the victim once the rape has occurred, including the all-too murky and rather simplistic advice to “take back control of their lives”.
Contacted by Euractiv, a Slovak police spokesperson explained that “mixed sexual signals” should be understood as “the behaviour of a potential victim, which the potential perpetrator can explain in various ways, such as flirting, smiling, blinking and so on.”
The recommendations faced a backlash among local and international feminist organisations, who accuse Slovakia’s police of perpetuating stereotypes on sexual violence and shifting most of the blame on the victims rather than on the offenders.
“The advice recommended by the police on its website works with the stereotypical notion that rape is committed by an unknown thug hidden in the bushes,” summarized Johanna Nejedlova, founder of the Czech organisation against sexual abuse Konsent.
Denisa Bardyova, a spokesman for Slovakia‘s police department, said it was not their intention to blame rape victims but that they were simply trying to “draw women’s attention to risky places and risky behaviour.”
Over one third of Slovaks believe rape can be “justified”
Studies show that most women are raped by someone they know – usually their partner or former partner – and that cases where the attacker is unknown only account for a minority of rapes.
An EU survey found that around one third of Slovak women declare having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives, with ex-partners being the most frequent offenders.
Activists also believe that such misleading recommendations only add to the feeling that Slovak women cannot trust the police to report rapes and other cases of sexual violence.
According to a Eurobarometer on gender-based violence, more than a quarter of EU citizens (27%) believe sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable in some cases, revealing the persistence of victim-shaming attitudes across the bloc.
In Slovakia, that figure reaches 39%, one of the highest among EU member states. The most common reasons that “justify” non-consensual sexual intercourse, according to respondents, are the fact of “wearing revealing, provocative or sexy clothing”, “voluntarily going home with someone else, for example after a party or date” and “being drunk or using drugs”.
Experts also point out that the legal definition of rape in Slovakia remains problematic, as it only takes into account women as victims and is based on an act of physical violence, which activists say fails to describe other situations where the victim is coerced into non-consensual sex without necessarily being physically abused beforehand.