Sexual Violence in Georgia
As with other countries in the region, Georgia’s legal system is lacking important protections to assure survivors are able to obtain justice through the country’s legal system. This includes the lack of appropriate and gender-sensitive methodology and policies to investigate crimes of sexual violence as well as societal stigma around sexual violence preventing survivors from coming forward and reporting the abuse.
In Georgia, human rights activists are increasingly coming together and calling for justice for sexual violence survivors and for ending impunity of perpetrators.
Understanding sexual violence in Georgia
Sexual violence against women is rooted in patriarchy and is used as a tool to exercise control over women and girls and their bodies. In combination with the failures in the criminal justice system that enable perpetrators to act with virtual impunity, existing social attitudes and beliefs contribute to a culture that encourages shame and silence around rape and discourages and often prevents survivors from seeking justice through legal mechanisms.
Under the national study on violence against women in Georgia (2017), 26% of women reported having experienced sexual violence and/or sexual harassment by a non-partner, including sexual abuse as a child. Out of these women, 2.7% of women aged 15-64 reported experiencing sexual violence by someone other than a husband or partner. Sexual intimate partner violence was reported as being 2.3%.
The rates of prosecution of sexual violence fall far behind the prevalence data. In 2018 for example, only 8 persons were convicted for rape.
As one Georgian activist, Elene, told Equality Now in April 2019, patriarchal social attitudes dominate life in Georgia, which bring shame to survivors of sexual violence:
“The direct English translation of the Georgian word for rape– gaupatiureba – means “to take your honour”. You are the one who is raped and it is you who are dishonoured, not the rapist.
What are the barriers to justice for sexual violence survivors in Georgia?
Sexual violence survivors face many barriers to obtaining justice in Georgia. This is due to the failure of the state to remove barriers to reporting (by combating victim-blaming attitudes on sexual violence), lack of trust in the criminal justice system and multiple restrictions at the stages of criminal proceedings, which enable justice for sexual violence in extremely few circumstances. The overwhelming majority of reported sexual violence cases goes unpunished which perpetuate a culture of silence. Consequently, survivors may face difficulties coming forward or with sharing their stories. They are given the message by the state that their well-being is worth ‘less’ than the perpetrators’.
Salome, a student in Tbilisi, Georgia, was raped one evening while she was walking home from work. She reported the crime to the police, who repeatedly questioned her over what she was wearing and initially disbelieved her because of the way she looked:
“I went to the police. They said they I didn’t look like a decent family girl. It was February. I was wearing a long dress and a warm jacket. I was not wearing tights. They asked me repeatedly why I was not wearing tights. As if that would have changed anything.”
Even though Salome was pregnant due to the crime, she was still made to undergo intrusive investigative measures, such as an examination of her hymen, and faced taunts from the police officers who were charged with helping investigate her case.
What are the laws on sexual violence in Georgia?
Although laws on women’s rights and violence against women in Georgia have improved in the past few years, and the country is ahead of many others in the region in terms of progress, a lot of work is yet to be done to ensure justice for sexual violence, put in place gender-sensitive criminal procedures and change social attitudes.
Even though Georgia ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2017, the definitions of sexual violence crimes are still not in compliance with the Convention standard, which requires the absence of free and voluntary consent of the victim as an integral part of such crimes. The definition of rape in Georgia still relies on the use of force, threats and abusing helplessness and falls behind the international human rights standards.
Even though marital rape is not excluded as crime, the lack of its explicit criminalization contributes to it being disregarded as a crime in practice. Harmful practices, such as child marriages, bride kidnappings (in some communities) further contribute to impunity for sexual violence. Women from vulnerable groups (such as women with disabilities) face additional barriers in accessing justice for sexual violence and the criminal justice system fails to address their specific circumstances.
What does International Law say?
Regionally, along with Estonia, Georgia is one of two states in the region to have ratified the Istanbul Convention, signifying its commitment to addressing violence against women and girls, including sexual violence.
Under the Istanbul Convention and other international human rights standards Georgia is bound to, the victim’s lack of voluntary and genuine consent should be the central element of the crime of rape judged in the context of the prevailing circumstances. The law should also envisage a broad range of coercive circumstances through which sexual violence can be committed. The legislation of Georgia has yet to comply with these standards.
What is Equality Now doing in Georgia?
Equality Now’s report, Roadblocks to Justice: How the Law Is Failing Survivors of Sexual Violence in Eurasia, is the first of its kind and expands upon the global work Equality Now has done in the past surrounding sexual violence, including our 2017 report, The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic. The report addresses laws and procedures on sexual violence in 15 countries of former Soviet Union, including in Georgia.
Equality Now has been able to bring the information and learning we have gained from other parts of the world as well as our extensive experience in international and regional advocacy and use of human rights mechanisms to better inform our work. Together with local experts and their contextual knowledge of Georgia and the region, we hope to encourage significant improvements in access to justice for sexual violence survivors that might in turn support the work of others in the region and further afield.
We partnered with UN Women and the Council of Europe improve the response to sexual violence crimes in Georgia primarily through the development of the Sexual Violence Investigation and Prosecution Manual.