Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Stalking is punishable by a term of up to 10 years in prison. According to national police statistics, during the first half of the year there were 734 reported cases of rape. However, NGOs estimated that the actual number of rapes was much higher because women often were unwilling to report rape due to social stigma. During the same period police forwarded 320 possible rape cases to prosecutors and 46 to family court (for underage offenders) for indictment.
At year’s end the case of the former mayor of Olsztyn, Czeslaw Malkowski, on charges of rape, attempted rape, and sexual harassment of female employees continued before the Ostroda Regional Court. His trial began in October 2011.
While courts can sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most convictions resulted in suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders on spouses to protect against abuse without prior approval from a court, but police do not have the authority to issue immediate restraining orders at the scene of an incident.
During the first half of the year, police identified 8,942 cases of domestic violence (459 fewer than the same period in 2011). Of these cases, authorities forwarded 7,432 for prosecution (1,014 fewer than the same period in 2011). During the first six months of the year, police reported that officers conducted 24,089 interventions related to domestic violence (14,690 fewer than the same period in 2011). According to prison authorities, at the end of the year, 4,710 individuals were serving prison sentences for crimes related to domestic violence.
According to some women’s organizations, statistics underreported the number of women affected by domestic abuse, particularly in small towns and villages. The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents if the perpetrator was a member of police or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts dealing with domestic violence. According to some NGOs, this requirement might actually have worsened the situation because the interagency teams focused on resolving the “family problem” rather than initially treating domestic violence claims as criminal accusations. The NGOs also believed the additional work required by the new procedures discouraged police from classifying cases as domestic violence and could have contributed to the reduction in reported cases during the year.
Centers for domestic violence victims operated by NGOs provided counseling for offenders and training for personnel who worked with victims. The government provided victims and families with legal and psychological assistance and operated 221 crisis centers and 11 shelters for pregnant women and mothers with small children. In addition local governments operated 35 specialized centers funded by the government’s National Program for Combating Domestic Violence. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims and “corrective education” programs for abusers. In 2011 the government allocated approximately 12.1 million zloty ($3.9 million) for the centers’ operating costs.
During the year the government spent 4.4 million zloty ($1.4 million) on programs to combat domestic violence. They were primarily corrective-education programs for abusers and training for social workers, police officers, and specialists who were the first contacts for victims of domestic violence. In addition the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy spent 300,000 zloty ($97,000) to organize a conference on domestic violence, a national public awareness campaign, and research on the problem of domestic violence. Regional governments spent almost 2.4 million zloty ($773,000) on training first responders. The government also spent approximately one million zloty ($322,000) on combating domestic violence under the “Safer Together” program and 150,000 zloty ($48,300) for a hotline for children and young persons operated by Nobody’s Children Foundation, a Warsaw-based NGO.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Persons convicted of sexual harassment may be sentenced up to three years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment as discriminatory behavior in the workplace, including physical, verbal, and nonverbal acts, violating an employee’s dignity.
According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem. Many victims did not report abuse or withdrew harassment claims in the course of police investigations due to shame or fear of losing their job. However, the media reported on certain high profile cases of sexual harassment. During the first six months of the year, police reported 46 cases of sexual harassment, compared with 32 cases during the first six months of 2011.
Reproductive Rights: The government generally recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. While there were no restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, some NGOs believed their use was limited because the government excluded prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, which made them less affordable. Some NGOs also believed that religious factors, such as the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church, affected the use of contraceptives. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. The government permitted health clinics and local health NGOs to provide information on family planning, including information about contraception, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women in family law, property law, and in the judicial system; however, few laws exist to implement this provision. Women held lower-level positions in workplaces, frequently received lower pay than men for equivalent work, were fired more readily, and were less likely to be promoted.
According to the prime minister’s plenipotentiary for equal treatment, women earned on average approximately 17 percent less than men. This was a slight improvement on the average over the previous 10 years of 20 percent less.
The plenipotentiary for equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunities for all. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy continued to promote gender mainstreaming in the labor market, including providing support for the Congress of Women and funding public awareness campaigns.