Failure to provide effective protection against rape and sexual assault violated CEDAW (V.P.P. v. Bulgaria)

 

This post discusses rape and sexual assault and may be considered psychologically triggering

V.P.P., a minor, was sexually assaulted by B.G., an adult man who lived in a neighbouring apartment building.  Bulgarian authorities waited two years before indicting B.G. for “sexual molestation of a minor”.  The District Court approved a plea bargain agreement that B.G. receive a three-year suspended sentence for pleading guilty.  B.G. continued to live next door to V.P.P. following the assault and no action was taken to ensure the ongoing safety of V.P.P.

The District Court rejected a request to file a civil claim for moral damages and a separate successful tort suit for 15,000 euros could not be executed with the mechanisms available under Bulgarian law. 

S.V.P. submitted a communication under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Optional Protocol) on behalf of her daughter claiming that Bulgaria had violated articles 1, 2(a)-2(c), 2(e)-2(g), 3, 5, 12 and 15 of CEDAW.  She claimed that Bulgaria had failed to:

  • act with due diligence to protect V.P.P. against sexual assault;
  • provide an effective remedy and address the health, rehabilitative and other needs of V.P.P.;
  • provide V.P.P. ongoing protection from B.G.; and
  • introduce specific legal and policy measures and health services to address violence against women and girls.

S.V.P. also claimed that Bulgaria’s response to her daughter’s assault reflected gender stereotypes related to violence against women and girls.  

Admissibility

Bulgaria did not contest the admissibility of the communication and the CEDAW Committee found no reason to declare the communication inadmissible. 

Bulgaria’s observations on the merits

Bulgaria submitted that it had not violated CEDAW as its courts had adjudicated V.P.P’s case in accordance with national law and B.G. was found guilty of sexually molesting V.P.P.  Bulgaria also noted that its legislature had since strengthened protections against sexual assault.

CEDAW Committee’s views

The Committee held the State Party accountable under articles 1, 2(a)-2(c), 2(e)-2(g), 3, 5, 12 and 15 of CEDAW for its inadequate legal protections against sexual violence and failure to exercise due diligence in relation to the sexual assault of V.P.P.  In so holding, the Committee affirmed that CEDAW require States Parties to prohibit and eliminate discrimination against women and girls, including gender-based violence, and exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and remedy acts of sexual violence by non-state actors. 

The Committee identified a number of instances where Bulgaria fell short of its obligations under CEDAW, including its failure to:

  • adopt criminal laws to punish rape and sexual violence effectively and classify sexual assault of a minor as a “serious” offence;
  • charge B.G. with rape or attempted rape, despite evidence of anal penetration by a bodily part and attempted rape;
  • indict B.G. in a timely manner and its decision to approve a plea bargain agreement that left V.P.P. without a remedy and resulted in a sentence considerably less than the prescribed maximum;
  • refrain from gender stereotyping in its sexual violence laws;
  • introduce mechanisms (e.g., protection orders) to protect against re-victimisation and ensure the safety of V.P.P.; and  
  • ensure V.P.P. received adequate compensation for her pain and suffering. 

The Committee was also critical of Bulgaria’s failure to introduce and apply healthcare policies and procedures on sexual violence and ensure V.P.P. was able to access appropriate healthcare services.  In finding a violation of article 12, the Committee recalled that

gender-based violence is a critical health issue for women and that States parties should ensure: the enactment and effective enforcement of laws and the formulation of policies, including health-care protocols and hospital procedures to address violence against women and abuse of girl children and the provision of appropriate health services; and gender-sensitive training to enable health-care workers to detect and manage the health consequences of gender-based violence. 

Lastly, the Committee was critical of Bulgaria’s failure to establish “a reliable system for effective compensation of the victims of sexual violence” and a legal aid scheme to ensure the enforcement of compensation orders.  The Committee explained that article 15 of CEDAW

embodies the principle of equality before the law, and that under this article, the Convention seeks to protect women’s status before the law, be it as a claimant, a witness or a victim, and that the above includes the right to adequate compensation in cases of violence including sexual violence.

Recommendations

The Committee recommended that Bulgaria provide reparation to V.P.P.  It also urged the State Party to adopt a number of structural recommendations, including ensuring that offenses related to sexual violence are consistent with international standards and are effectively investigated, prosecuted and remedied. 

UN Doc. Communication No. 31/2011, CEDAW/C/53/D/31/2011 (24 November 2012)

 Decision

 

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