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‘Systemic inaction’ to blame for suicide of 14-year-old alleged rape victim

12 February 2021
Kakuti. Photo via Facebook.

Georgian authorities have been accused of failing a 14-year-old girl who took her own life, allegedly after she was raped.

The girl was found dead on Wednesday in the village of Kakuti, near Kobuleti, in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. 

She was discovered by her grandfather, who told journalists that she was sexually assaulted last year and that she ‘was worried’ that police had not arrested her attacker. He also said that months after the initial attack, her attacker confronted her and ‘used’ her again.

The victim’s mother, who had been absent while working in Turkey in recent years, told local channel TV 25 that her daughter was also subjected to violence from relatives after she reported the July attack.

A day after her death, the Interior Ministry announced they had arrested a 23-year-old man, charging him with rape. Raping a person below 16 years of age is punishable by 7–9 years in prison under the Georgian Criminal Code. 

Much about the case remains unclear, including whether social and psychological support was provided to the girl. However, the timing of the arrest and emerging but yet unverified details about the victim have caused a public outcry.

On Thursday Public Defender Nino Lomjaria vowed to investigate the possible ‘delayed and ineffective’ work of state agencies at every level.

Tbilisi-based child rights advocacy group the Partnership for Human Rights (PHR) said a lack of trust in the victim’s claim was likely behind the Prosecutor’s Office’s decision not to arrest the suspect immediately. 

They vowed to scrutinise every step of how the state, including the State Care Agency, responded to the case and if they did everything possible to prevent the tragedy. 

PHR are awaiting access to investigative materials as they plan to represent the deceased’s older sister, who was the victim’s legal guardian.

On 11 February, anti-government group For Georgia protested what they said was the ‘inaction of the system’ after the rape was made public in the summer. They held demonstrations in Tbilisi in defiance of the coronavirus curfew. 

Protesters gathered outside the offices of the ruling Georgian Dream party first and later the Interior Ministry to demand the resignation of Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri. 

On 12 February, the Georgian Women's Movement announced a 100-day campaign ‘For Nini’. The group plans to campaign for the relevant laws, educational programmes, and the social care system to be reformed to provide adequate help to victims of sexual assault. 

Social workers overworked and understaffed

In her statement, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria underlined that there was an urgent need for a systemic overhaul of the systems in place to deal with such cases. She said the Georgian authorities had failed to respond to violence against children in a timely manner or to provide victims with proper rehabilitation services.

To illustrate her point, the Public Defender said that a third of investigations launched into sexual violence against minors registered in 2018-2019 were dropped by the authorities, blaming delayed probes and a recurring failure to properly reach out to victims.

Lomjaria also said that State Care Agency, which is responsible for helping victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking, remained understaffed, with only one psychologist per region and with social workers deprived of adequate resources. 

The Public Defender highlighted a problem in assigning early intervention from a psychologist, which she said was decided exclusively by investigators and prosecutors who were not properly trained in handling juvenile sexual violence cases.

The Georgian Social Workers Union quickly concurred with the Public Defender’s criticisms, adding that the Georgian Law on Social Work remained unimplemented, leaving victims without an around-the-clock response service and social workers without proper guidelines to follow during emergencies. 

According to the union, social workers at the State Care Agency are not able to handle the on average 100-200 cases assigned to each of them monthly, while beneficiaries sometimes wait up to a year to get psychological services. 

On 12 February, Keti Khutsishvili from Social Workers Union told TV channel Priveli that there was only one social worker available in the Kobuleti Municipality in Adjara. 

[Read more on OC Media: Georgian social workers forced to pay for taxis to visit domestic abuse victims]

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