A onetime young star politician with a huge social media following has been charged with two counts of rape and one attempted rape and could face up to 10 years in prison.
The case of Domink Feri, until last year an MP for the centre-right TOP 09 party in the ruling coalition, is seen as a landmark in the country for the way it has focused attention on the way men in positions of authority can use their power to demand sex from women. A number of testimonies involving sexual assaults by other celebrities and well known public figures, including assualts against minors, have appeared since the case was publicised.
Only 5% or rapes get reported in Czechia and surveys show that some 40% of the population think women are co-responsible for getting raped. Rightwing parties in the government and opposition have continued to block ratification of the international Istanbul Convention on violence against women.
Feri was elected to parliament at the age of 21 as the country's youngest legislator and the first to be black. He had the largest social media following of all MPs, particularly among young people.
After the alleged rapes were publicised he stepped down as an MP in May 2021 and also left TOP 09 and its candidate list before last October’s general election.
Feri was charged following investigations by award-winning journalists Apolena Rychlikova and Jakub Zelenka, which included an account of Feri allegedly intoxicating and sexually assaulting a seventeen-year-old girl. Czech news outlets Alarm and DenikN have subsequently published accounts shared by eight female victims as well as matching accounts from several witnesses.
Police recommended launching charges in October and the state prosecutor’s office officially charged Feri this week.
Feri has denied the charges, telling told media that so far the public has heard only one-sided accounts and that he welcomes the opportunity to “submit evidence to the court which will prove my innocence”.
In Czechia, victims have frequently had to face humiliating situations in their effort to bring perpetrators to justice. Pirate Party legislator Klara Kocmanova, who advocates legislative redefinition of rape and the ratification of the Istanbul Treaty, points out that reporting a rape is often the most complicated part, with victims “facing distrust or derision”.
“We know that for various reasons it is difficult for the victims to share [what happened to them] with someone, and it is their decision whether they want to undergo this process,” writer and founder of Konsent civic platform for prevention of sexual violence Johanna Nejedlova told Czech Radio.
“Testimonies described by the journalists are important, because no matter if Dominik Feri is sentenced or not, we as a society can denounce such behaviour and say it is indecent,” Nejedlova said, adding that Feri could have grown accustomed to the feeling that his alleged actions are “unpunishable”.
In Czechia “about half of the perpetrators are handed conditional sentences, and many cases are not even classified as rape such as when victim experiences paralysis”, Kocmanova wrote on her Facebook page on the occasion of the international day commemorating the struggle to quell violence against women.