S.L., a 17-year-old high school student, will never forget the horror she went through when she was 8 years old, when a young man age 20 harassed her.
It happened in the entry of the building in which she lived. He asked her to help him find a friend of his who supposedly lived in the same building. As she was young and naïve, she decided to help him. But some minutes afterward, she faced the fear that would follow her throughout her life.
“After we climbed two floors, I stopped to tell him that I couldn`t help him anymore but when I turned by head I was speechless. The unknown man had taken out his genital organ and while looking at me he said ‘come and touch it.’ I was shocked and started running downstairs and luckily he did not come after me,” S.L. says.
A.L., the father of the girl, says to KosovaLive that he found out what happened around one hour later, thus not being able to react immediately and identify the person. They did not report the case to the police due to the impossibility of providing a detailed description of the perpetrator.
“We have been afraid for a long time that the person who harassed our daughter would come to our building again and commit another act. Both of us [the girl’s parents] tried to help our daughter as much as we could, in order for her not to have consequences following her all her life,” A.L. says.
Vahide Morina, a psychologist at the Foundation Together Kosovo (FTK), located in Prishtina, gives advice on the web-page www.nukjevet.net for youth aged 12-25 and the problems they face. Among others, she helps them with professional instructions regarding trafficking, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. During the last two years, she also helps them in the field of reintegration in society.
She says that the term “sexual harassment” includes each unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal touching which makes a person feel sexually uncomfortable. Sexual harassment aspects may include sexual comments, physical gestures, showing pornographic content to someone without their consent and spreading sexual rumors about others.
“While rape victims know exactly what is happening to them and how they are being mistreated, sexual harassment victims are often confused and insecure relating sexual harassment experience. This due to the fact that sexual harassment might happen very quickly or as a series of events during a long period of time,” Morina says.
Signs of depression, giving up on their daily activities, avoiding socialization, and sleep disorders are some of the changes harassment victims exhibit. They can also have severe consequences as: high stress levels, anxiety, or panic attacks. Sexual harassment can also impact the way how they perceive things. They may consider their environment negative and hostile.
Morina says that since 2010, when “Nukjevet” was created, they have answered more than 21,000 questions from Kosovar youth. 179 out of the overall number of questions were relating to sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Non-Governmental Organization FTK, founded in 2009, has respected the principle that the identity of those who asked for help should remain anonymous, and emphasizes that the advice is free.
The sociologist Ferdi Kamberi states that the complexity and sensitivity of the issue are some of the reasons that sexual harassment cases remain silent. He says that Kosovar society oftentimes is not ready to report the cases to the police, but adds that even if they do so, the minors’ sexual harassment is stigmatized.
“The problem grows bigger especially in rural area where society has a more patriarchal mentality; people know each other better, and there are less opportunities to report these cases,” Kamberi says.
There is not a unique database with exact statistics of minors` sexual harassment cases in Kosovo, but according to information from some NGOs and the Kosovo Police, these cases are not rare.
For example, in the “Ec Shlirë” application, from 2016 until now, 21 cases of harassment have been reported. Out of them, four individuals were 14 years-old, two were 15 years-old, nine others were 16 and nine other people were 17 years old. In 2017 only, 47 cases of sexual harassment were reported to the police, even though it is not specified how many cases were minors.
Seven years ago, 27 local and international NGOs created the Coalition of NGOs for Child Protection in Kosovo (CNCP). As a project funded by the European Union, from 2016, CNCP has published data regarding children’s rights violation. Among the data presented was that of public service institutions in which 41 Kosovar children were identified as victims of several forms of violence, mistreatment and sexual abuse.