Europe’s top human rights organization calls on Poland to change criminal definition of rape

In a statement released on Thursday, the Council of Europe called on Poland to change its definition of rape to ensure women are better protected, warning that, currently, the law could let assailants walk free.

Europe’s top human rights body urged the EU member state to alter its current legal definition of rape over concerns that it doesn’t cover “all non-consensual acts,” with existing legislation focusing on a “force-based definition.”

“Without a consent-based definition of rape in criminal law, prosecutors will invariably decide against seeking an indictment in cases where the sexual act is undisputed, but consent is not,” the Council of Europe warned.

The statement from the Council of Europe comes after Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party imposed stricter anti-abortion laws, essentially banning the procedure despite strong protests from women’s rights activists.

The Council of Europe issued a number of reforms, beyond altering the definition of rape, that are designed to ensure women are better protected within the Polish healthcare system. Other recommendations include improving emergency care and services for individuals who suffer sexual abuse, bolstering training for healthcare professionals and police so they are properly equipped to cope with cases, and encouraging greater communication between officials and women’s rights groups.

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The European body’s concerns were sparked by a review taken by the Council of Europe into the implementation of the 2014 Istanbul Convention, a treaty aimed at preventing and fighting violence against women. Currently, of the EU’s 27 member states, six – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia – have failed to ratify the treaty. Poland has signed and ratified the convention but has clashed with the EU over its domestic women’s rights policies.

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