The new year began with a scandal in Serbia. Several women have accused famous theater teacher and director Miroslav Mika Aleksic of rape and sexual abuse. All were students at his theater school and at least one of them was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse.
Milena Radulovic, a successful 26-year-old Serbian actress, was the first to tell her story publicly. In an interview for the Serbian magazine Blic In an article published on January 16, she claims that Aleksic raped her when she was a minor: “I was at Mika Aleksic’s school for six years when he raped me. I was 17 years. This didn’t happen just once. It happened repeatedly.”
This event triggered an avalanche of reactions throughout the Western Balkans. Other women and victims of sexual harassment, not only in Serbia, but also in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have raised their voices against the violence and many of them have spoken out, as has Radulovic.
“It was an important and courageous decision, and it is important not only for this specific case, but also for the whole society and the region,” Sanja Pavlovic, an activist with the Women’s Autonomous Center of Belgrade.
Start a revolution
This subject remains the biggest taboo in the region and women still feel shame and fear when speaking out, she explains. Many remain silent. “As a society, we have dealt with this problem the least. We have the weakest laws and the least reported crime rate when it comes to rape and sexual harassment. This law has sparked a revolution,” says Pavlovic.
A small revolution began with Ana Tikvic, a former student of the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo, who launched the initiative “Nisam trazila”, or “I didn’t ask for it”, with three of her colleagues .
“We believe it is high time to raise awareness that sexual harassment and misogyny are present in every cell of our society,” Tikvic said. The group’s Facebook page has gathered more than 40,000 followers in just a few weeks, as well as more than 4,000 anonymous messages or confessions about sexual violence from across the region.
“After 19 years of silence, I finally spoke out. I was the victim of sexual abuse when I was 8 years old, by a member of my family who was 16 years old at the time. He told me took many hours of psychotherapy to dare to believe in myself. memory, to stop convincing myself that I am exaggerating”, was just one of the many anonymous messages published on the page.
A safe, condemnation-free space
“We want to provide a safe space where everyone can express themselves freely, without fear of condemnation,” Tikvic told DW. According to her, the fear of speaking freely about sexual violence or pointing the finger at the perpetrator of this violence is all the greater because there is virtually no support or understanding from society.
After Radulovic told her story, “the public in Serbia and the region behaved like: ‘She asked for it. She is an actress, what did she expect? This is normal in her profession’ “, explains Ana, a Croatian who lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia. That’s why, she explains, the name of the social media platform is “I Didn’t Ask For It.”
Ana and her three colleagues do not want to point the finger at anyone or any particular institution. They are simply angry at the system which, she told DW, needs to be changed.
Although they all graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo, where a professor now faces at least 16 complaints of sexual harassment, all filed after Radulovic’s accusations in Serbia, these young women still do not want say if they had such experiences at the academy. themselves. But they say they have all experienced misogyny throughout their lives.
“No institution is spared from these scandals,” says Ana Tikvic.
Low public trust in institutions
Universities, performing arts and drama academies, state legislatures and many other institutions in the region have now taken the first steps to end or prevent sexual violence, primarily by creating charts where Students can report any type of sexual abuse or violence.
Measures have been taken in Belgrade, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Zagreb and many other cities outside the capitals. And many NGOs, as well as the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, have followed suit, coming together under the hashtag #nisisama, which means “You are not alone”.
It seems that Milena Radulovic has connected the whole region. But there is still a long way to go.
“There are three to four thousand cases of domestic violence reported in Serbia, but only about 70 cases of rape per year. The conviction rate is very low, around 50 percent,” Sanja Pavlovic of the Belgrade Autonomous Center told DW , before adding that public trust in institutions is therefore extremely low.
The same evening that Milena Radulovic’s interview was published, the authorities reacted and arrested Miroslav Mika Aleksic (69 years old). He now faces charges for committing eight criminal acts of rape “between 2008 and 2020” and “seven illegal sexual acts”, the Serbian prosecutor’s office said.
“When it comes to denouncing someone who is in a position of power or who is respected in society, the victim wonders: ‘To what extent will my word be taken into account compared to theirs? ?’ Pavlovic told DW, explaining the silence that is generally common among victims of rape and sexual abuse.
The Autonomous Center has recently been receiving many more calls from women reporting sexual violence and Pavlovic sees this as a big change.
“It will now be easier for all victims to dare to denounce violence, to talk about it, not perhaps publicly, but within their own community or family. This is very positive, but it is also a big test for the institutions. We will see how they will handle this,” says Pavlovic.