The rape of a 16 year old girl has shocked the people in Kosovo. On Thursday, people took to the streets to express their outrage. And like in Bosnia, it seems to be about a lot more than „just“ a horrendous crime. Too many, this case shows how the authorities in their country are failing them.

There is probably no telling how many underage girls are being raped in Kosovo each year.

Like in all other countries, official statistics about reported rapes just show a fraction of the sexual violence committed.

One thing is certain: What happened to this teenager from the town of Drenas has happened and probably is happening to others. Like, it should be said, unfortunately in just about every other country.

This does not make it any less tragic and concerning. Quite the contrary.

This case seems to have particularly shocked Kosovars.

First raped by a teacher, then by a policeman

First, a teacher allegedly sexually abused the girl who apparently was 15 when the assaults started.

She reported it to police.

The police officer who she filed the complaint with not only didn’t do anything according to media reports and the prosecutor’s office. He allegedly also started to blackmail the girl into having sex with him.

When the student got pregnant, he allegedly forced her to have an abortion.

The doctor who allegedly performed the abortion apparently did so without informing the girl’s parents or asking for their consent.

On some Facebook sites Kosovars claim this also would have been required by law.

Like the teacher and the police officer, the doctor apparently is under investigation. it is unclear though, what for.

The police officer has been detained, according to media sources.

Protests in Prishtina

Media have been covering this case for days and people have been discussing little else.

On Thursday, this erupted in a protest in Prishtina.

Several hundred people gathered in the city center in front of police headquarters  to express their outrage and demand justice for the victim.

There are protests in other cities, including Drenas, the victim’s home town, people stated on several FB-pages and according to Balkan Insight.

This is about a lot more

It is a safe assumption that it was not only the understandable outrage that drove people to voice their anger and frustration.

The girl is just the lastest case gone public where Kosovo police have failed to protect a crime victim.

And it is a particularly tragic case. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than a rape victim in her teens.

This case appears to become a symbol for the everyday corruption of authorities Kosovars experience, much like what sparked Pravda za Davida and Pravda za Dženana in Bosnia.

Like corruption everywhere, it hurts those the most who need help the most.

There is another aspect to this as well: It is women who receive the least protection.

While there is no indication that there are significantly more sexual assaults or violence against women in Kosovo than in many other European countries, authorities are very reluctant to do anything about it.

After the end of Yugoslavia, there has been a re-patriarchisation of society, eradicating much of the progress made in socialist Yugoslavia.

That people take to the streets, even though at this point there do not appear to be mass protests, should be seen as a sign that many have had it.

At this point it need be said that this is not a development specific for Kosovo.

Not just a Kosovo problem

The same must be said about most successor states of Yugoslavia.

In Serbia too, for example, violence against women is an obvious yet little dealt with problem.

This being said, it would be sensible to put this tragic case in a wider context.

Similar cases, unfortunately, can and do happen everywhere else.

When I was still a reporter for Austrian public radio and television, I reported on a very similar case.

The alleged perpetrators were the father of the purported victim who happened to be in charge of a police station and another police officer who the girl, about the same age as the Kosovar victim, had turned to for help.

Police took the allegations very seriously, as did the prosecutor’s office.

The case was brought to trial.

The defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence, however. The father’s attorney had succeeded in putting the young woman’s credibility into question.

Unfortunately, this is seen much too often in rape cases.

Which goes to show that it is hard for women even in countries with a functioning legal system to get justice and protection.

It is probably one of the reasons why in most Western countries only about one in ten rape cases is ever reported to police.

Seeking help and justice is even harder on the Balkans

Everyday corruption and the return of machismo make it all the harder for rape victims in particular and women in general in most of the Balkan countries.

Additionally, even less ressources are allocated to institutions like women shelters and emergency hotlines who provide at least emergency advice and protection than is the case in Western countries.

Whether Thursday’s protests will develop into a larger movement like Pravda za Davida in Bosnia remains to be seen and will in part depend on police and court proceedings in this case.

Why one should be careful in critizising the doctor

What I personally do not understand about the debate in Kosovo is the criticism against the doctor who performed the abortion.

If he knew the girl was forced to have it, this criticism is of course justified and he should face jail time for it and lose his license.

In that case he would have performed a medical procedure against the patient’s will.

If not I do not understand what the problem is.

Of course, I am not familiar with Kosovo’s penal code.

If, as some people have maintained, it states that minors can only have abortions with their parents‘ consent, this is a provision that must be ignored.

Whether through rape or consensual sex – if an underage girl gets pregnant it must be her choice and her choice alone whether or not she wants to have the child.

There are many reasons why she may not want to have the child. It is no one’s business to ask why.

Requiring her parents‘ consent renders her hostage to whatever convictions her parents may hold and effectively takes to choice away from her.

This is blatant injustice.

(Of course, in any case, it must be the woman’s and only the woman’s choice, no matter what age or circumstances are. But for teenage girls, this issue is even more pressing.)

Also, some people critizise the doctor for not informing police.

For one, it is unclear what he knew or didn’t know.

Patients must be able to trust in confidentiality

For the other, people must be able to absolutely trust in their doctor’s confidentiality.

This, of course, particularly goes for people in distress. Like a teenage girl who is pregant by her rapist.

So, under no circumstances with the exception of infections that severely endanger other people must a doctor be required to inform any authorities without the patient’s consent.

I am sure any responsible doctor would make a patient aware of the help she could get when she or he suspects there is a crime involved and urge her to seek it.

But anything more would endanger the confidentiality between patient and doctor.

Besides, in most cases mandatory reporting wouldn’t yield many results.

A crime victim must be willing to cooperate with authorities.

If the crime is reported against her will, she won’t be.

As in many rape cases there is not a lot of physical evidence, the entire case would depend on the victim’s testimony.

If the victim is unwilling to testify, you may as well throw the case out of the window.

As I said, I would expect any doctor who suspects a patient has for instance be raped to encourage the victim to report it and seek any help she can get.

To require anything more would in my eyes be highly irresponsible and wouldn’t help anyone.

Contributions: Una Hajdari