Changes redefining sexual violence adopted by parliamentary committee

Ljubljana – The Justice Committee unanimously adopted on Wednesday amendments to the penal code redefining sexual violence. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers had opposed the changes, saying there is nothing wrong with the existing legislation. But MPs sided with the organisations which work with victims of sex crimes.

Under the changes, rape will no longer have to involve force, as the changes incriminate interference in sexual integrity without consent.

Under the changes filed by the opposition based on a proposal from NGOs, those involved must express consent to the sexual act either implicitly or verbally.

MP for the opposition Left Matej T. Vatovec said the proposed changes were the result of a long campaign and battle of organisations dealing with victims of sexual violence.

Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič also endorsed the changes, noting that the ministry had been working on such changes for two years. She said it would take even longer for people’s mindset to change.

Supreme Court Judge Marjeta Švab Širok said the debate on the definition of sexual violence had been triggered by one wrong court decision. She said legislative changes were not necessary. Instead, she proposed responding to new forms of crimes.

Supreme state prosecutor Mirjam Kline said that it was wrong to think that victims would no longer need to testify or that they would be more protected. “Mere legislative changes will not do that,” she warned. She was also critical of the proposed lowering of the minimal prison sentence from a year to six months.

Mitja Jelenič Novak from the Bar Association said the changes would not improve the penal code but create a more repressive and dangerous criminal law on sexual offences.

But MPs were not convinced. “If experts are aware that we need changes but nothing happens, then politicians make a move,” said Predrag Baković from the opposition Democrats (SD).

He said statistics showing that most people accused of sexual violence get probation spoke in favour of the changes.

Katja Zabukovec Kerin from the Association for Non-violent Communication said that statements that there is nothing wrong with the current legislation were dangerous and disrespectful to all the victims who have been warning for years that the system was not good and do not feel safe to speak up.

The head of the SOS hotline, Maja Plaze, said the legislative changes in line with the principle only yes means yes were a historical move.

NGO the March 8 Institute, which has been campaigning for a redefinition of sexual violence, said ahead of the session it expected broad support for the legislative changes. It said the changes would be a step in the direction of victim protection but that sexual harassment and violence would still need to be addressed.