Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. According to national police statistics, during the first half of the year there were 688 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 509 possible rape cases to prosecutors and 55 to family court (for underage offenders) for indictment.
On March 25, the president signed into law a revision of the criminal code that introduced a punishment for stalking, with a term of up to 10 years in prison.
In March the Lodz Appeals Court reduced the sentence for former Sejm deputy Stanislaw Lyzwinski from five years’ imprisonment to three years and six months for rape, repeatedly forcing four women to have sex, abetting a kidnapping, and extortion.
On October 21, the regional court in Ostroda began the trial of former Olsztyn mayor Czeslaw Malkowski on charges of rape, attempted rape, and sexual harassment of his female employees. The charges resulted from an almost three-year-long investigation of Malkowski, who was charged in 2008 with the sexual harassment of two female employees and the rape of a third.
Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious problem. Observers attributed an increase in the number of reported cases to heightened police awareness, particularly in urban areas, as a result of media campaigns and NGO efforts. 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 provides for restraining orders on spouses to protect against abuse; prosecutors have the authority to issue restraining orders without a court’s prior approval, 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 9,401 cases of domestic violence. Of these, 8,446 were forwarded for prosecution. During the first six months of the year, police reported that officers conducted 38,779 interventions related to domestic violence. According to prison authorities, at the end of the year, 5,191 individuals were serving prison sentences for domestic violence crimes.
According to some women’s organizations, the number of women affected by domestic abuse was underreported, 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.
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 220 crisis centers and nine shelters for pregnant women and mothers with small children. In addition, 35 specialized centers were operated by local governments and 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 2010, the last year for which statistics were available, the government allocated approximately 12.2 million zloty ($3.8 million) for the centers’ operating costs.
The government also spent 3.9 million zloty ($1.2 million) during the year 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 330,000 zloty ($105,000) to organize a conference on domestic violence, a national public awareness campaign, and research on the problem of domestic violence. Regional governments spent almost 2.6 million zloty ($825,000) on training for first responders.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Persons convicted of sexual harassment may be sentenced up to three years in prison. The labor code 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 32 cases of sexual harassment, compared with 52 cases during the first six months of 2010.
Reproductive Rights: Although the government generally recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, some restrictions existed. While there were no restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, religious, social, and economic factors limited their use, according to a local NGO, the Federation for Women and Family Planning. Prescription contraceptives were not included on the government list of subsidized medicines, which made them cost-prohibitive relative to average household income. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. Health clinics and local health NGOs were permitted to provide information on family planning, including information about contraception, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
In June 2010 the UN special rapporteur on health issues, Anand Grover, cited serious impediments to women’s access to certain reproductive health services, such as contraception and prenatal testing. Grover called for the provision of unbiased sexual education and better funding for contraceptives.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women in family law, property law, and in the judicial system; however, in practice there were few laws to implement this provision. Women held lower-level positions, frequently received lower pay than men for equivalent work, were fired more readily, and were less likely to be promoted.
On January 26, the Web site www.wynagrodzenia.pl reported a large discrepancy in the average salaries of men and women in a national survey of 2010. The survey found that women’s salaries were on average approximately 33 percent lower than men’s salaries.
The prime minister maintains a plenipotentiary for equal treatment with a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunities for all. Some women’s rights groups and international organizations complained, however, that the position was neither sufficiently resourced nor sufficiently independent from government influence to fulfill its mandate. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy continued to promote gender mainstreaming in the labor market, including providing support for the Polish Women’s Congress and funding public awareness campaigns.