8 May 2023
On February 15, Lviv police took into custody a man accused of sexually assaulting his daughter when she was a minor. This is a major turning point in the survivor’s quest for justice, achieved through the legal assistance of the Ukrainian lawyers’ association JurFem, with the support of Lawyers Without Borders Canada.
The father, an Ukrainian priest, is currently on pre-trial detention without bail – a relief for the survivor who courageously initiated criminal proceedings against him almost two years ago after carrying this burden for eight years before.
In the summer of 2021, the survivor – now an adult – turned to JurFem, LWBC’s partner, as her last hope. At the time, she had already sought the help of a psychologist, who tried to persuade her to keep quiet, to avoid the risks of stigmatization that would entail the denunciation of a clergyman, seen as “untouchable” in Ukraine. Her family’s reluctance held her back from initiating criminal proceedings until then.
Her call for justice was ignored for a long time.
“The problem was that nobody believed her. No one could believe that she was really telling the truth because her father is a clergyman. The authorities investigated, interrogated, and even submitted her to a lie detector test. And that was the end of it.” Oleg Ivanov, the survivor’s lawyer, recounts.
JurFem’s support lawyer, Oleg Ivanov, has been representing the survivor’s interests. He successfully convinced the prosecutor to issue a search warrant to search the man’s apartment. Numerous hard drives containing thousands of child pornography files were found.
“The victim was again interrogated. She identified herself, her father, the episodes when it happened, and exactly what happened. The electronic evidence coincided with her testimony. Her father was charged”, he adds.
Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Indeed, it has been found that survivors of sexual violence are unlikely to report their case to the authorities as they fear being retraumatized, not believed and/or stigmatised.
Electronic evidence, key to the accused’s prosecution
Ukraine’s standards of proof are still overly reliant upon the medical examination of the victim to prove the commission of an act of sexual violence. It is a burden upon the victim as such examination may only be carried by a limited number of medical experts in 72 hours after the commission of the rape.
LWBC has conducted training with JurFem’s lawyers to build their capacities regarding the submission of new types of proofs in cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including contextual elements of crimes and electronic evidences. These last were indispensable for the arrest of this man.
The success of these cases broaden the scope of evidences that may be brought before the judges in cases of rape, which represent a radical change beyond the present case, fostering survivor’s access to justice in Ukraine.
LWBC has been supporting JurFem in this case in the context of its project “Armed Conflict’s Impact on Women and Girls”, implemented with the financial support of gouvernement du Québec. This project is now done, but the organization’s commitment to JurFem’ cause remains.
“There remains a very large amount of unprocessed electronic data. An investigation is underway. Investigators are also looking into whether there are other victims”, says lawyer Oleg Ivanov.
The evidence, recordings, videos, and photographs, will be examined during the trial.
One Ukrainian women out of four have reported already experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The development of this expertise in Ukraine is an encouraging step forward for other survivors of sexual assaults. They now might feel more confident to seek justice and denounce the aggressor(s), knowing other types of evidence – ones that are less intrusive and less likely to retraumatize them – are available to raise their case.
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