Due to personality protection, it is not possible to provide details of the case, but the basic facts will suffice to illustrate the case. The minor K. was abused by her father: he touched her in bed and in the bathtub, including nature, forced her to satisfy him with his hand and taste his sperm, took photos with her pornographic material, which police later discovered on his phone, where he still had hundreds of photos, and several videos showing child sexual abuse. Police later found more photos and videos on the computer.
The man was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered sexological treatment at the Hradec Králové Regional Court for raping and abusing a child for the production of pornography. The girl’s guardian then asked the court for her to receive compensation of one hundred thousand crowns for her suffering. However, the judge dismissed it, explaining that “there is not a single piece of evidence that the defendant’s actions would leave any mark on the damage”, the girl would have “succeeded in moving the whole case and is certainly not affected by this fact”. “No other negative traces were found which could have been the actions of the defendant in the case of a permanent or long-term injured party and which would have had a negative impact on him,” judge Jiří Vacek said. during the verdict in February 2020.
The report from the kindergarten, where the girl went at the time of the crime and where they noticed a change in her behavior – is mentioned directly in the judgment – she was more in tears and had problems eating. However, the court did not consider this to be sufficient grounds for compensation. This is one of a total of 556 cases from 2019 and 2020, which ProFem has asked courts of various instances across the Czech Republic to examine how often courts award monetary compensation to victims of rape, domestic violence and harassment.
These are exclusively final convictions, including 313 for the crime of rape, 216 for domestic violence and 122 cases of harassment. In 80% of cases, the victims received no compensation. This is mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of victims do not even claim them: of the 611 victims in the sample of convictions examined, only a quarter claim them. “It’s very little,” says Jitka Poláková, director of ProFem. “That means the vast majority of victims don’t receive compensation, and that’s a serious problem.”
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According to extensive research with victims, interviews with legal professionals, as well as long-standing experience, ProFem, which helps people who are victims of sexual and domestic violence, is the result of a number of factors. The police and prosecutors often ignore the possibility of seeking compensation from the victim. However, when they decide to take this step, they face personal and systemic barriers. Since most cases in these categories occur in people who know each other, personal complications complicate matters. Victims may have difficulty translating the amount of suffering caused by the violence, or they may be ashamed to ask a family member or acquaintance. A general distrust of the “system” also plays a role.
On the other hand, the reasons for the reluctance of the courts to extend the proceedings initiated by the claim for damages (although other lawyers dispute this conclusion), as well as the additional costs of expertise to prove in court the damage suffered in the thousands . However, Veronika Ježková, the professional guarantor of ProFem’s legal services, points out that the Civil Code works with the notion of infringement of natural rights, which means an attack on the personality, dignity or health of a person. . “There’s no need for an expert opinion here, so the courts could fix that harm,” he says. “Furthermore, natural rights are almost always affected by crime.”
Judges also do not know how much to award – also due to the low remuneration practice, they do not take much inspiration from their colleagues. Or they refer victims to civil proceedings where compensation must be sought. “But that essentially amounts to a denial of the claim – we know from our practice and other interviews that victims almost never initiate civil proceedings,” says ProFem lawyer Petra Sýkorová. The reasons are similar here: from prolonging the traumatic experience to the fact that continuing to judge is simply expensive.
Alternatively, the courts will dismiss the claim as unfounded, as in the case mentioned in the introduction. Besides the court’s opinion that the victim was not seriously harmed by the violence, the abuser’s (in)ability to pay the amount sometimes plays a role. In another case of a raped child, the judge reduced the amount so that it did not have a “liquidation character” for the perpetrator (to twenty thousand crowns). “According to the case law of the Supreme Court, however, the property of the offender is the last thing the court should take into account,” warns Veronika Ježková.
It is the reduction of the amount claimed that is one of the common phenomena in cases where the victims have requested compensation and the court has granted them. According to data from ProFem, the victims claimed an average of 284,536 crowns and the courts awarded them an average of half that amount. At the same time, the contrast between zero for a child victim of abuse on the one hand and two hundred thousand for an adult woman who suffered “only” an attempted rape testifies to the different approach of the judges.
The results of the study provide further important insights into how national courts view the issue of sexual and domestic violence and how they understand the impact of these acts on victims. As the introductory case shows, judges sometimes don’t even have a basic understanding of what a trauma response looks like. It is widely described in the scientific literature that displacement is the basic defense mechanism of a person who finds himself in an unbearable traumatic situation. And this does not mean that the events did not have a negative effect on the victim. Specifically for childhood sexual abuse, the long-term, often lifelong, consequences of such an event are described in detail.
According to ProF, the situation could be improved by a set of measures that he will negotiate with the Ministry of Justice in the coming weeks – ranging from an education campaign to alert the public to the possibility of compensation, to the training of judges.