Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Stalking is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. According to national police statistics, during the first half of the year there were 670 reported cases of rape. NGOs, however, estimated that the actual number of rapes was much higher because women often were unwilling to report incidents due to social stigma. During the same period, police forwarded 219 possible rape cases to prosecutors and 35 to family courts (for underage offenders) for indictment. On June 13, parliament adopted a revision of the criminal code to allow prosecutors or police to initiate an investigation ex officio even without a formal complaint filed by the victim.
While courts can sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received 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 8,004 cases of domestic violence (938 fewer than the same period in 2012). Authorities forwarded 7,358 of these for prosecution (74 fewer than the same period in 2012). During the first six months of the year, police reported that officers conducted 27,708 interventions related to domestic violence (3,619 more than the same period in 2012). According to prison authorities, at the end of September, 4,430 individuals were serving prison sentences for crimes related to domestic violence.
According to some women’s organizations, the statistics understated the number of women affected by domestic violence, 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 police officer or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal 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 claims of domestic violence as criminal matters. The NGOs also believed the additional work required by the new procedures discouraged police from classifying cases as domestic violence and might have contributed to the reduction in reported cases during the year. On July 15, the supreme audit chamber noted that the establishment of interagency teams delayed assistance to victims of violence and that the procedures for granting assistance were excessively bureaucratic and time consuming. As of year’s end, the government had not addressed the supreme audit chamber’s criticisms.
Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics were available, local governments provided victims and their families with legal and psychological assistance and operated 209 crisis centers and 12 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; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers. In 2012 the government allocated approximately 12.5 million zloty ($4.0 million) for the centers’ operating costs.
During the year the government spent 4.1 million zloty ($1.3 million) on programs to combat domestic violence, 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 260,000 zloty ($84,000) to organize a conference, conduct a national public awareness campaign, and undertake research on the problem of domestic violence. Regional governments spent almost 1.7 million zloty ($548,000) on training first responders. The government also spent approximately 670,000 zloty ($216,000) on combating domestic violence under the “safer together” program and 150,000 zloty ($48,000) for a hotline for children and young persons operated by the Nobody’s Children Foundation, a Warsaw-based NGO.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and violations carry penalties of 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. The media reported some high-profile cases of sexual harassment. During the first six months of the year, police reported 36 cases of sexual harassment, compared with 46 cases during the first six months of 2012.
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 and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. According to the government plenipotentiary for equal treatment, women have a worse situation in the labor market in comparison with men. A 2012 report by the central statistics office showed that women had a higher rate of unemployment and earned less than men. According to a European Commission report, the gender wage gap in 2011, the latest year for which data was available, was 4.5 percent.
The plenipotentiary for equal treatment had a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all. The plenipotentiary prepared the “National Plan for Equal Treatment for the Years 2013-2016” in September and presented it to the Council of Ministers on December 10. The plan identifies the main objectives and policies for equal treatment, including detailed actions to improve gender equality in the labor market. 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.