BIRN debate exposes flaws in fight against sexual harassment

Educators and members of civil society highlighted issues in the education system and with the Kosovo Police that discourages the reporting of sexual harassment.

In a BIRN debate aired on Monday, Liridona Sijarina, an activist at Collective for Feminist Thought and Action, stated that sexual harassment is widespread in Kosovo’s schools, and that the the recent incident of sexual violence involving school children is far from an isolated case.

For Sijarina, the lack of public debate on the issue is a concern, while she states that authorities employed to tackle sexual violence and harassment are often ill-prepared.

“Officials who are supposed to offer protection from sexual harassment are not trained,” she said. “They do not know what sexual harassment is, or how to proceed in cases when someone reports sexual harassment.”

In 2020, 48 cases of sexual harassment were reported to Kosovo Police but according to Sijarina, there is not single case in which someone was convicted, despite sexual harassment being listed as a criminal offense under the Criminal Code.

Panelists during the BIRN debate on Monday. Photo: Urim Krasniqi/Prishtina Insight.

According to Sherife Alickaj-Qerimi, a teacher from Fushe Kosove, problems with sexual harassment even extend to Kosovo Police. She told BIRN about an incident that occured more than seven years ago, when she went to report an attempted sexual assault on a 12-year-old girl by the girl’s father.

Alickaj came to Prishtina to report the case to the police. However, while she was reporting the incident she found herself being harrassed. 

“A policeman said to me, ‘Can I have your phone number as I want to talk with you,’” she recalled. “So I had to deal with another problem and not deal with the case of the girl.”

For Alickaj, who is a member of the Kosovo Parents Council, negligence by state authorities has discouraged reporting of sexual harassment. “There are thousands of cases that remain unreported,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I am most disappointed with the Police and Prosecution.”

The question of who to report cases of sexual violence or harassment involving school children also raised the issue of the lack of school psychologists in Kosovo’s public education system. School psychologists can often be an important confidant for pupils, but currently only 57 specialised psychologists cover more than 1,000 schools across the country.

The debate also focused on sexual harassment in higher education. Suzana Manxhuka-Kerliu, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Prishtina, said that her faculty has taken measures to tackle cases of sexual harassment, which have already yielded results.

She identified the case of an assistant professor who was sacked after his inappropriate behaviour was reported by a student.

“He was sending her messages late at night expressing his feelings about her appearance,” Manxhuka told BIRN.“I reported this to the Council of the Faculty of Medicine, we discussed the issue and took the decision to terminate the assistant professor’s contract.”

Manxhuka stated that this case should encourage all those subjected to sexual harrasment or sexual violence to report cases and help tackle sexual violence at the Unversity of Prishtina.

“One of the values of our universities should be gender equality and the fight against sexism, and sexual harassment in any form,” she said “We at the Faculty of Medicine are ready to stop sexual harassment and encourage students and staff to report cases.”

18/05/2021 - 11:46

18 May 2021 - 11:46

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.