When researching the incidence of sexual abuse of children and minors in Slovenia, I relied on available data from official competent institutions, namely the Police Directorate, the Centre for Social Work, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Court. Furthermore, the information from non-governmental organizations (NGO) committed to the issue of child abuse provided additional help. However, I summed up most of the information on the situation in Slovenia from the recently published and publicly available studies and scientific articles.
In their report, Slovenian Police state that every fifth child is the victim of child abuse. In Slovenia, that counts for 70,000 children. On the other hand, merely about one-tenth of these cases is reported to the police, showing that the general public is undereducated and too inactive concerning this subject. One in four girls and one in four boys are among the victims. According to non-governmental organizations, most cases of sexual abuse occur in the family or are conducted by a person the child knows well or is attached to. The second most common locations of sexual assault are childcare and educational establishments with their immediate surroundings. In the end, in Slovenia, it is a long road to helping the victims due to the lack of suitable experts. Sexual assault of a child, most offenders are male and in some cases female, is punishable by imprisonment of up to 8 years.
A recent survey on the sexual abuse of children conducted by the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of the Republic of Slovenia showed that almost one in five Slovenes had experienced at least one form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of the respondents believe that sexual abuse of children is a severe issue in our country, while almost half of the respondents do not recognize the signs of abuse. In Slovenia, the victims of sexual assault are most often girls; the perpetrators are mostly men from various age groups, aged 18 to 64, and men over the age of 64. Among the perpetrators are primarily fathers, stepfathers, uncles and grandfathers.
It should be noted that the official and available data go back only as far as 1990. There is no information on sexual violence against children before this period. Although legislation on sexual assault victims protection in Slovenia is relatively adequate and appears in seven legal regulations, few victims decide to report such assaults. The Slovenian Police annually deal with a few more than 200 criminal offences against sexual integrity. According to non-governmental organizations, this is only an insignificant share of reported crimes, which, according to their estimates, does not exceed 10 per cent of all crimes of sexual violence against children. Moreover, penalties for perpetrators are mild; sexual assault on a child is punishable by one to eight years in prison, and even more worrying is the fact that, to a large extent, the punishment is not enforced at all. From 2015 to 2018, for example, out of 424 criminal charges, the court ruled that only six cases involved actual child sexual abuse. In four of these cases, the perpetrators received a suspended sentence. The data show that in Slovenia, there is still a lot to be done in this area.
For most state institutions, data on crime are public and published online. Furthermore, these institutions are also willing to cooperate and offer assistance in studying these cases (Tomažič, 2020). NGOs also have a positive attitude towards discussing child sexual abuse, as more and more attention is paid to abused children, and organizations themselves offer support to victims of abuse. Slovenia also wants to follow the European model of finding solutions, which is why the Berghaus model is emerging. However, in Slovenia, research into the extent of crime in this area is still insufficient.
If most sexual assaults against children occur in their home environment, a special issue that plagues Slovenia is related to rape and sexual abuse crimes within the Slovenian Catholic Church. The findings that follow are fully summarized according to prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek. She has a PhD in sociology and is the chair of the Department of Social Justice and Inclusion at the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Ljubljana. In her original scientific article on the disclosure and chronology of sexual abuse by priests in Slovenia, she states that there are from 2 to 4 per cent of sexual violence perpetrators among priests. Furthermore, Dr Darja Zaviršek writes that in a country with about 1100 priests, the number of reported abuse cases is very small compared to other countries. According to official data from the RCC in Slovenia, by 2013, just over 20 cases of sexual abuse carried out by the priests had been reported. According to the research conducted by Prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek, in 2015/2016, 172,000 children were attending Slovenian primary schools, which means that, according to statistical probability, 34,400 children were victims of sexual abuse. If we consider that in 2015, there were 380,284 children under 18 in Slovenia, today 76,056 children or adults who have endured at least one type of sexual abuse live in this country. As prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek states that the fact that the police dealt with only 3,196 criminal offences of sexual assault on a person under the age of 15 between 1995 and 2012 shows how poorly we detect sexual violence. Moreover, it is rarely reported, and quite frequently, the suspicion of sexual abuse is not confirmed during the investigation. In addition to that, prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek records that the data given by the Slovenian Police do not adequately show how severe the problem of child sexual abuse is. Instead, it shows that our society keeps quiet, making the abuse socially acceptable. Even the victims themselves, their parents, experts and the general public have developed a high tolerance for the abuse. Nevertheless, in 2010, the Society for the Protection of the Constitution and the Victims of the Church was founded, which, among other things, advocates for more people to report abuses. Since 2018, the association has systematically collected information, confessions and testimonies from victims sexually abused by Slovenian priests.
In the chronology of child abuse suspicions and lawsuits, according to prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek, priests most often violated Article 183 (sexual assault on a person under the age of fifteen) and Article 184 (violation of sexual integrity by abuse of position of trust) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Slovenia (2012). Article 1 mentions, among other things, the abuse of position of trust by the people to whom a child under the age of fifteen is entrusted with learning, education, treatment, care or nursing, and that includes priests. Article 2 additionally provides, inter alia, punishment for a person who abuses his position in cases where the victim is subordinate to or dependent on this person and is forced to perform sexual acts. In one case, a priest was accused of sexually assaulting an infirm person (Article 182 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Slovenia). Most of the reported, accused, or convicted priests were older men, a few of them right at the end of their careers. They served in smaller rural areas across Slovenia, where priests have more influence in the community than in urban areas. Priests abused girls and boys, including one intellectually disabled child. Priests did not choose a specific place for the abuse, as it could happen anywhere: in parishes, confessionals, private cars, holiday homes, the victims’ homes, and the Church. According to the findings of prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek, some cases confirmed the notable research findings that sexual abuse of priests, similar to abuse in social welfare institutions, has a general, silent consensus. The abuse is whispered about and known to more people, employees, peers and parents of children. However, no official report is filed. (cf. Zaviršek 2000).
In Slovenia, the legislation adopted by the Holy See in 2001 in this area is taken into account when dealing with criminal offences of sexual abuse by priests. In practice, this means that when suspecting sexual abuse, the local bishop or Minister Provincialis (TN: the designated head (superior/prior) of a regional section of a monastic order) conducts an investigation without informing the police, as otherwise required by Slovenian law. Thus when dealing with the violence against children, we encounter the question of whether the Church as an institution indeed respects the Slovenian legal order or do we here encounter a genuine discrepancy between the two legal regulations. The Society for the Protection of the Constitution and the Victims of the Church, for example, estimates that about 20 per cent of abuses are «dealt with» within the Church itself.
At the end of the report, it should be emphasized that data on the extent of sexual violence against children and adolescents in Slovenia were not available before 1990. There was also no data on abuse in educational and welfare institutions, nor cases of child removals from mothers or illegal adoptions of children born to single mothers in the past. However among elderly people there are a lot of testimonies about all those different cases of child abuse in the past that should be investigated in the future.
Zaviršek, Darja. (2016). Doktrina in metode socialnega dela na področju podpore žrtvam spolnih zlorab v katoliški cerkvi
Tomažič, Sabrina. (2020). Odnos do spolnih zlorab otrok v Sloveniji
Ministry of the Interior (Republic of Slovenia)
Retrieved from URL: https://www.gov.si/drzavni-organi/ministrstva/ministrstvo-za-notranje-zadeve/
Ministry of Justice (Republic of Slovenia)
Retrieved from URL: https://www.gov.si/drzavni-organi/ministrstva/ministrstvo-za-pravosodje/
The Association SOS Help Line for Women and Children – – Victims of Violence
Retrieved from URL: https://drustvo-sos.si/
The Association for Nonviolent Communication
Retrieved from URL: https://www.drustvo-dnk.si/
Society for the Protection of the Constitution and the Victims of the Church
Retrieved from URL: https://www.zrtve-cerkve.org/
Association Against Sexual Abuse
Journalistic research of the issue; personal conversations with prof. Dr Darja Zaviršek, Maja Plaz, director of the SOS Help Line, Katja Zabukovec Kerin, head of the Association for Nonviolent Communication, representatives of competent institutions.