Accepted Paper:

Talking about Rape: Discourse on Sexual Violence in Poland  


Agnieszka Koscianska (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic and archival research and discusses the role of feminists in shifting discourse on sexual violence in Poland from the 1970s to present.

Paper long abstract:

Poland has a progressive law regarding rape: it defines it regardless of the relationship of the rapist and the victim (thus also penalizing marital rape) and their gender (men can be victims as well). However, the law is not fully executed because of widespread stereotypes concerning rape: the victim is often perceived as being guilty of what happened. This paper draws on multiple sources (analysis of press and publications on sexuality; analysis of court cases; interviews with psychologists and sexologists serving as expert witnesses in courts; participant observation during classes for future expert witnesses and others dealing professionally with sexual violence; interviews with feminists working with victims of sexual assault) and shows that feminists have been instrumental in shifting discourse on sexual violence and court practices by bringing women's/victims' voices into the public sphere. In the 1970s and the 1980s predominantly male experts (lawyers, criminologists, sexologists) emphasized women's responsibility for rape. In the 1990s a new group of experts emerged - women (usually feminist) who were engaged in helping victims. These new experts managed to shift public discourse to focus on the victims' suffering; in the next decade feminists started to stress the issues of women's sexual autonomy and pleasure, which has also reflected on public discourse. Furthermore, the analysis of court cases shows that feminist language has been gradually appearing in legal settings and lawyers more and more often refer to feminist concepts in their work with rape victims.

Panel G01
The gendering of public space in the globalized world (IUAES Commission on the Anthropology of Women)