April 15, 2021

Joint statement of Women Human rights activists from the Balkan region toward Gender based violence on the internet

The institutional silence is actively encouraging online sexual harassment

The victims are multiplying while the institutions are quietly failing

We, the women human rights activists from the Balkan region stand together in solidarity with all women victims of digital gender-based violence and demands from the relevant institutions to act according to their jurisdiction to thoroughly and promptly investigate the case of the groups on the Telegram platform (such as: Balkan Room, Public Room, GevgelijaHub, Serbian Room, Smokva, etc.), in order to sanction the perpetrators and to protect the victims from further victimization.
Exactly one year after the appearance of such a group on the Telegram Network in Macedonia, which is used for sexual harassment of girls and women by posting their photos without their consent and in a pornographic context, as well as the victims’ personal data, we witness new cases of this kind of abuse not only in this country, but on a regional level as well. Although the administrators and the creators of two of these groups have been arrested, we believe this is only the first step in accessing justice that must be provided to all victims of these types of crimes. We welcome the reaction regarding child online abuse cases, but the institutional silence that we face sends a clear message that violence against women is tolerated, that is not punishable, that perpetrators are encouraged to continue with this behavior and that the victims are left to remain intimidated, ashamed and muted. The abovementioned cases in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia have shown that only a small number of perpetrators are prosecuted and those that are prosecuted are pursued for the crime of “production and distribution of child pornography”, which prevents the protection of adult victims.

Women from the former Yugoslavian countries, to whom we have provided free legal aid and other services for years, have experiences that testify numerous shortcomings in the conduct of proceedings. Often, women who suffer sexual abuse online deal with unadequate response from the institutions, so they often lack trust in the police and consider reporting to be in vain, due to the practices of inaction, disbelief and relativization of the victims’ experiences. Imposing misdemeanor sanctions and warnings on perpetrators instead of documented and reasoned criminal charges, as well as inadequate enforcement of prohibitions on approaching and contacting victims, results in continued and intensified violence, often followed by serious consequences for the victims’ health, which in some cases can even cause death.

Regarding the public prosecution offices, we constantly notice an untimely initiation of indictments, inefficient or negligent management of pre-investigation and investigative procedures that resulted in untimely or in no provision of relevant evidence, as well as failure to take measures against the perpetrators to prevent continued violence against the victims. All of these institutional oversights have become even more visible with the emergence of sexual violence and harassment of women in the digital sphere, which, although is massively occurring and counting thousands of female victims in the Balkans, does not receive an adequate institutional response or an appropriate public support. On the contrary, discrediting experiences, blaming, embarrassing and double victimizing are the dominant narratives that women face today. It is obvious that the silence of the institutions is additionally encouraging the functioning and the maintenance of such groups in the digital space, while the girls continue to face danger for their personal safety and have violated dignity and health. Unfortunately, the easiest way to humiliate a woman is to portray her in a sexual scenario, which only speaks of the insurmountable stigma that still marks female sexuality as shameful and indecent, and labels victims in this context not as victims, but as women who “sought this to themselves”.

Thus, the stolen photographs, combined with the misogynist, sexist and violent comments, and the treatment of women as objects without integrity, feelings, desires and traumas, speak of serious, deep-rooted misogynic values in our region that must be comprehensively and radically addressed. But, in order to begin solving the problem, we must first name it. This is not a problem of personal data abuse and it cannot be solved with such a limited approach. This is a problem of gender-based violence, with the purpose of humiliating, blackmailing, silencing and oppressing girls and women, and if it is not treated as such, the perpetrators will succeed in this goal.

Today we are aware that there is a regional network of harassers, i.e. opening and administering of Balkan groups whose aim is to humiliate and sexually harass women. Therefore we demand from the relevant institutions to seriously and with responsibility approach to this social fenomena which affect at least the half of population. We demand institutional cross border cooperation in thorough investigation and prosecution of all involved offenders from the region.
This case is a chance for the institutions from all over the region to show that they stand for women’s rights and protection against gender-based violence, not just declaratively, but in practice! Hence, we ask the Public Prosecutor’s Offices in the region to immediately and thoroughly clear the cases with the Telegram groups that are acts of crime. We ask the Ministries of Interior Affairs to continuously undertake preventive activities and to put a stop to the existence of these groups.

Jointly and in solidarity!

1. Центар за младински активизам ЦМА КРИК
2. Здружение за дислексија АЈНШТАЈН
3. Здружение за одржлив развој СФЕРА Интернешнал Битола
4. Здружение на граѓани – Младите можат
5. Центар за едукација и развој – ЦЕД
6. Европско здружение на студенти по право – ЕЛСА Македонија
7. Здружение за мултикултурна интеграција Инклузија
8. Здружение на правници ЛЕГАЛ Тинк
9. Регионална ромска образовна младинска асоцијација
10. Здружение СВТ Алумни Скопје
11. Центар за интеркултурен дијалог
12. Фондација за интернет и општество Метаморфозис
13. Здружение на граѓани – Ромаверзитас
14. Лидери за едукација, активизам и развој
15. Креактив
16. Секција на млади на Сојуз на синдикати на Македонија
17. Здружение Станица П.Е.Т. Прилеп
18. Македонско здружение на млади правници
19. Опции за здрав живот – ХОПС / Healthy Options Project Skopje – HOPS
20. Фондација Отворено општество – Македонија (ФООМ)
21. СУБВЕРЗИВЕН ФРОНТ Скопје / Sexual and Gender Minorities Association SUBVERSIVE FRONT Skopje
22. Младински образовен форум – МОФ / Youth Educational Forum – YEF
23. Period. The Menstrual Movement Skopje
24. Здружение на правници Роми
25. Reporting Diversity Network 2.0
26. Хелсиншки комитет за човекови права – Скопје / Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia
27. Коалиција Маргини / Coalition Margins
28. Здружение на граѓани за промоција на женската активност Тиииит! Инк. – Скопје / Tiiiit! Inc. – Skopje
29. Здружение за локален и рурален развој / Association for Local and Rural Development
30. ЛезФем / LezFem
31. Организација на жените на општина Свети Николе / Organization of Women of the Municipality of Sveti Nikole
32. Здружение за едукативен развој – Еквалис / Association for Educational Development – Ekvalis
33. Хуманитарно Здружение „Мајка“, Куманово / Humanitarian association “Mother”, Kumanovo
34. ТАКТ / TAKT – Together Advancing Common Trust
35. Рурална коалиција / Rural Coalition
36. Реактор – Истражување во акција / Reactor – Research in Action
37. Национален совет за родова рамноправност (СОЖМ)
38. Мрежа Стела / Stella Network
39. ХЕРА / Health Education and Research Association, HERA
40. Акција Здруженска / Akcija Zdruzenska
41. Здружение на граѓани за еднакви можности „СЕМПЕР, Битола / “Association of equal opportunities “SEMPER”, Bitola
42. Женски Форум Тетово / Women’s Forum Tetovo
43. Женска граѓанска иницијатива АНТИКО / Women’s Civic Initiative – “ANTICO”
44. Националната Мрежа против насилство врз жените и семејно насилство
45. Здружение за локален развој – Камењане / Association for Local Rural Development – Kamenjane
46. Здружение за промоција на статусот на жените во македонија „Женска акција“, Радивиш / Association for Promotion of the Status of Women in Macedonia “Women’s Action”, Radovish
47. Здружение на граѓани „СУМНАЛ / “Association of Citizens “SUMNAL”
48. Здружение на граѓани „Флоренс Најтингел“, Куманово/ Association of Citizens “Florence Nightingale”, Kumanovo
49. Здружение на социјални работници на Град Скопје / Association of Social Workers of the City of Skopje
50. Кризен центар „Надеж“ / Crisis Center “Hope”
51. Здружение на турчинки во Македонија, „ДЕРЈА“ / Organization of Turkish Women in Macedonia,“DERJA”
52. Организација на жени на Град Скопје, ОЖС / Organization of Women of the City of Skopje, OZS
53. Организација на жени „Кумановка“, Куманово / Organization of Women “Kumanovka” , Kumanovo
54. Организација на жени на Општина Велес / Organization of women from the municipality of Veles
55. Женска граѓанска иницијатива „КЛЕА“, Битола / Women’s Civic Initiative “KLEA” – Bitola
56. Младински центар за еднакви можности / Youth Center for Equal Opportunities
57. „Една може“ Скопје / “One Can” Skopje
58. Здружение за родова еднаквост „Визија“, Кавадарци / Association for Gender Equality „Vision“, Kavadarci
59. Комора на психолози на Република Северна Македонија / Chamber of Psychologists in Republic of North Macedonia
60. Здружение на жени ромки и млади „Лулуди“ / Roma Women and Youth Association “Luludi”
61. Скај Плус Струмица / Sky Plus Strumica
62. Медуза – феминистичка платформа / Meduza – Feminist platform
63. Women’s Rights Center (Centar za ženska prava)
64. Human Right Action (Akcija za ljudska prava)
65. ANIMA- Center for Peace Education (ANIMA – Centar za mirovno obrazovanje)
66. SOS Hotline Berane (SOS Telefon Berane)
67. SOS Hotline Podgorica (SOS Hotline Podgorica)
68. Women’s Safe House (Sigurna ženska kuća)
69. Association of Youth with Disabilities (Udruženje mladih s hendikepom)
70.NGO Juventas (NVO Juventas)
71. Udruženje “Žene juga” Pirot
73. BeFem feministički kulturni centar
75. Ženska pomoć sada – SOS telefon za žene i djecu žrtve nasilja
76. Kolektiv mladih žena FEMIX
77. Udruženje građana “ Žene za mir”
78. Alternativni centar za devojke
79. Žene u crnom
80. ROZA Udruženje za radna prava žena
81. Rekonstrukcija Ženski fond
82. Ženergija Hub
83. Impuls Tutin
84. Centar za ženske studije, Beograd
85. Incest Trauma Centar – Beograd
86. Kulturni centar DamaD
87. Centar za podršku ženama, kikinda
89. Udruženje građanki FemPlatz
90. Ženski centar Šabac
91. Fondacija CURE- Sarajevo
92. Ženska soba – centar za seksualna prava
93. Romski centar za žene i decu DAJE
94. Centar za žene žrtve rata – ROSA
96. B.a.B.e. Budi aktivna. Budi emancipiran.
97. Ženska udruga IZVOR
98. Udruženje Romkinja Osvit – Niš
99. Udruga žena Romkinja u Hrvatskoj “”Bolja budućnost”
100. Udruga žena Vukovar
101. Ženska grupa Karlovac “Korak”
102. Centar za devojke
103. Sigurna zenska kuca
104. Centar za razvoj zajednice LINK
105. Udruga za ljudska prava i građansku participaciju PaRiter
106. Udruženje žena Peščanik
107. Autonomni ženski centar, Beograd
108. UG “ Romani cikna” Kruševac
110. SOS za žene i decu žrtve nasilja Vlasotince
111. Labris – organizacija za lezbejska ljudska prava
112. PAOR- Panonska Antifašistička organizacija
113. Centar za podršku i razvoj civilnog društva “DELFIN”
114. ANIMA Centar za žensko i mirovno obrazovanje
115. Ženski centar Užice
116. Inicijativa Verujem ti
117. Bibija Romski zenski centar
118. Inicijativa Nećemo Prećutati
119. Centar za ženske studije Zagreb
120. Forum žena Prijepolja
121. SOS Rijeka – centar za nenaslje i ljudska prava
122. Udruga žena Nit
123. Sigurna ženska kuća
124. Udruga ”HERA” Križevci za zaštitu i promicanje ljudskih prava
125. Ženska mreža BiH
126. UŽ “SEKA” Goražde
127. Fondacija “Lara”
128. IN fondacija
129. Inicijativa Građanke za ustavne promjene
130. Centar ženskih prava
131. Inicijativa građanki/na Mostar
132. Helsinški parlament građana Banjaluka
133. Fondacija Udružene Žene Banja luka
134. Udruženje žena “Priroda” Bratunac
135. NVO “SPES”
136. Udruzenje zena Romkinja”Bolja buducnost” Tuzla
137. Ženska romskamreža”Uspjeh” Bosna i Hercegovina
138. Latcho Dive- Association for Roma Women Development – Skopje