The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest in the morning program of Television Pink.
The professor of the Faculty of Architecture, who was reported by female students for sexual harassment, was heard yesterday at the First Basic Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade. Before the deputy prosecutor, he completely denied committing all three criminal acts of sexual harassment. In the further course of the proceedings, the prosecution will question the three injured parties, on whose allegations the criminal prosecution was initiated, as well as the witnesses. How common are cases of sexual harassment of students at colleges and how can students protect themselves from abusers? This is the topic we will discuss with the Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić. Welcome... To what extent do you encounter such difficult cases?
- This case practically opened the Pandora's box, but the Faculty of Architecture is not the only faculty where such, I will call them conditionally, unpleasant events happen. On this occasion, we asked all faculties in the Republic of Serbia, four universities and all faculties, both state and those colloquially called private ones, to inform us whether they have rulebooks, which they must have for such cases, that determine how they will act when someone reports sexual harassment, and of course, there is also a need, that is, an obligation to appoint a trustee to whom those students, or anyone at the faculty in general, will be able to turn to and ask for help.
This is what the prosecutor's office says about this case. That he denied committing all three crimes of sexual harassment. Now we are waiting for the continuation of the procedure. We already said it in the announcement, the witnesses and the injured party will testify, and then an expert testimony will be ordered, other evidence will be obtained and then the final decision will be made. The prosecution said that the public will be informed about everything in a timely manner. And what does the Protector of Citizen do in that sense, except that you sent a recommendation...?
- In his recommendation, the Protector of Citizens requests that a disciplinary procedure be carried out by the faculty administration, which is their obligation. The reasons are as follows – this criminal offence that is charged against him, which is covered by Article 182a of the Criminal Code, if I tried to paraphrase it, I wouldn't be able to quote it in full, but it refers to those who verbally, non-verbally, with physical behavior undermine someone's dignity on the basis of their gender and thus cause fear, discomfort, affect their dignity, for which the punishment is a fine or a prison sentence of up to six months... In addition, if they are minors, and in this case, they are not, then the punishment is somewhat stricter – three months to three years.
What do they tell you from these other faculties? Did they reply... Is it a larger number of students?
- All faculties had a deadline and a recommendation to draft rulebooks and appoint a trustee. We even offered to help them to perform the selection of trustees according to the same standards, because it is not a person who can perform that function easily, because he practically needs to talk to both the person who was sexually harassed and the person who is the harasser. There is always a danger of so-called secondary victimization, because you need to mediate between the one who is the victim and who has certain problems as a result of an action, at least mental problems, and the one who possibly undertook such an action. It is the first and basic thing, to organize that at the university. The court will decide as it decides, if it comes to court at all, if it doesn't end with the prosecution, because these crimes that I mentioned, I quoted what the punishment is, often end before the prosecution itself. What I find a little skeptical is this article, which I think is not defined well enough, because it opens up the possibility of subjectivism on both sides. And secondly, the punishment, if someone is sentenced most severely, is six months. I think it is a small punishment for this kind of offence. I apologize for commenting as the protector of citizens. I certainly cannot comment on the work of the prosecution and the court, but I can comment in the manner in which it is regulated by law, i.e., on the content of that article.
When we said that this case opened the Pandora's box, do you have any complaints now from other faculties?
- The first time I appeared in the media with this information, I called on all those who suffer sexual harassment, this does not mean only at colleges and universities, but in every respect, to contact the Protector of Citizens, and it is not only the Law on Personal Data Protection that protects data, it is also our obligation to protect all information we receive. We've had calls, but I'm not going to tell you the number at this point, until that number is fully defined, we're not going to go public with it.
Well, we will have to meet again about this case and cases like this, because this topic is very serious... Thank you very much.
- Thank you for the invitation.