Protesters gathered in the center of Prishtina yesterday (Monday, 17 October) after a 16-year-old girl was beaten by three men outside of her high school in Rahovec. Footage captured on a camera phone from inside the 12 Maji school was uploaded to social media on Friday and went viral, sparking outrage and coverage in national media. The girl is seen to be kicked while lying on the ground and forcibly placed into the back of a car by her uncle and two other men.
The protest in Zahir Pajaziti Square was organized by Facebook group Feminizmi Shqiptar (Albanian Feminism), NGO Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) and the Group of Women Assembly members from the Municipality of Gjakova. Under the banner Nuk Ka Arsyetim (Enough Excuses), it called for a more robust response to violence from the police and educational institutions, who have been criticized for downplaying the seriousness of the incident and treating it as a family matter to be dealt with privately.
The school’s principal, Hasan Krasniqi, had described the incident as an “internal family problem between an uncle and his niece,” adding that she had been absent from school 41 times throughout September. In a press release, KWN quoted local police officers in Rahovec as having played down the seriousness of the incident in saying that, “giving a few slaps to a girl who only in September missed school 41 times should not be exaggerated.”
In an interview with Klan Kosova, her mother defended the attack, saying that she had told the uncle that her daughter had been missing school and going to bars, “like other teens,” and “he got angry, and he hit her, and it’s nothing,” adding that “we want her to go to school, not bars. We pay for her bus trips, her books, everything. And she just can’t learn.”
Protesters encouraged people to report such violence, and for incidents to be prosecuted in accordance with the laws in place. Speaking to the media at the protest, KWN activist Adelina Berisha said that all of us have an obligation to condemn and fight domestic violence. “Our families, schools, the institutions which are responsible for fighting it by law — unfortunately, often they either fail to do so, or their personal values are accentuated when dealing with cases of domestic violence,” she said.
A 2015 report by KWN, “No More Excuses,” using a representative sample of 1,315 people from across Kosovo, found that more than 70 percent of young men and women in Kosovo aged 18-25 have experienced domestic violence. Out of 184 cases mentioned by survey respondents, 44.4 percent involved an arrest and 32.2 percent were known by the respondent to have gone to court. In 48.9 percent, respondents said that the perpetrator received no punishment.
Speaking to K2.0 after yesterday’s protest, KWN program manager and lead researcher Nicole Farnsworth, suggested that the incident in Rahovec highlights that some within the police and educational institutions don’t know the law: “It is ex oficio prosecution: When a crime occurs you must immediately prosecute it; you cannot say, ‘It was just a slap,’ when you have on film someone being beaten in the road — that is an automatic crime and you have to prosecute it.”
She added that educators also have “the legal responsibility to report crimes when they happen, especially against children and minors. So the law is very clear, what we have is a problem that the institutions [in many cases] don’t know the law and don’t know how to implement it.”
Farnsworth said that even before the incident happened, KWN had already planned to visit several institutions with recommendations resulting from its research, as part of an ongoing campaign to combat violence. A 2008 report on domestic violence informed the Kosovo Program against Domestic Violence and Action Plan 2011-2014.
Summarising the 2015 report, which evaluated the progress made, Farnsworth explained that although there had been some improvements, there remained “a lot to be done, both by people in terms of changing attitudes and knowledge, and by institutions in terms of knowing the law.” The protest, she hoped, will raise awareness and inform the public debate.
Among the placards yesterday were “Dhuna nuk është formë edukimi” (“Violence is not a form of education”). One of the protestors, Lulzim Bucolli, an educator from Prishtina, told K2.0 that “violence happens in Kosovo because that’s what people believe discipline is.” He added that this “method of educating has been going on forever” both in Kosovo — mostly in smaller cities — and elsewhere, but that “today people are coming together and saying ‘no.’”
Lulzim suggested that although violence has been used in education toward both boys and girls, it remains a gender issue, suggesting that had the child in question been a boy, it wouldn’t have provoked the same reaction from the family. “It would not be as severe as it was for a woman,” he said.
The 2015 KWN report found that 62 percent of respondents had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime (68 percent amongst women, 56 percent amongst men). Since 2014 alone, 30.5 percent had experienced domestic violence, with women twice as likely to have experienced incidents as men*. It also found that 54.7 percent believe that “girls need more discipline than boys so that they will be morally correct.”
Farnsworth concluded that it is very sad that incidents such as the one in Rahovec have to happen in order for people to take to the streets. “But in these cases it does make people want to stand up, and I think we should all stand up together against violence, like we did today.”
Berisha also expressed frustration that such protests were necessary but highlighted the need to keep the issue of gender-based and domestic violence in the spotlight. “We hope that awareness will be raised among the citizens, regarding violence and [citizens’] rights, and we also hope that the institutions will do their job properly,” she said. “I know that we can’t expect to achieve all of this with one protest, but this is our first step, and then we’ll see how we proceed.”
On Monday evening, after the protest had taken place, the uncle in the Rahovec incident — who had been arrested and held for questioning for 48 hours — was found guilty of domestic violence. He was given a one year suspended sentence on condition that he refrain from “physical violence, psychological humiliation and physical threats” against his niece.K
*Correction: the originally published version of this article stated that 68 percent of Kosovars have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. This was incorrect as 68 percent was the percentage of women who have experienced domestic violence. The paragraph has been updated to reflect the accurate figures.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.