Croatian Criminal Code Amendments Come into Force

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On July 31, 2021, new amendments to the Croatian Criminal Code entered into force. Thus, from 2013 to 2021, over the course of just eight years, Croatia has changed its criminal law no less than six times, mainly to comply with wider EU laws. This time was no exception, as the cause for yet another set of changes was the transposition of two EU directives – one on combating fraud and the counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment, and one on combating money laundering.

Although no public consultation has been planned for the proposed sixth amendment of the Criminal Code, B.a.B.e. (Be active. Be emancipated.) An organisation for gender equality and the protection of human rights for all launched a petition for the introduction of a legal framework for the prosecution of revenge porn, which involves the non-consensual publication and distribution of sexually explicit content.

As stated in their press release on May 13th, ”Let’s stop revenge pornography!”: ”Pornography without consent is usually preceded by the voluntary sharing of intimate photos between partners taken at a time when there was an emotional connection, but solely with the intention that that intimate content is intended for the then partner and with confidence that such content will never be abused in the future.

Revenge pornography typically occurs because the ex-partner seeks revenge for the breakup, which leads the victim to feelings of fear, shame, anxiety, and other negative emotions, the consequences of which can be so far-reaching that they can cause the victim long-term suffering.”

They added that ”intimate videos or images are often shared in conjunction with other personal information of the victim, including their name, address of residence or employer, telephone numbers, links to their social media profiles, email addresses, etc., which makes victims more exposed and vulnerable.”

The press release emphasised that ”the perpetrator doesn’t necessarily have to be an ex-partner, bearing in mind that videos and photos can be taken without the victim’s knowledge” and that ”a victim of revenge porn can be any person, regardless of their sexual behaviour and possible history of partnerships.”

The statement included examples of the legal frameworks in place for battling revenge porn in several European countries, as well as in distant Australia.

B.a.b.e.’s initiative was supported by several other NGOs and collected close to 10,000 signatures. 

Thanks to their intervention, revenge porn was criminalised under the name ”the abuse of sexually explicit footage”, in the head of the Criminal Code titled ”Criminal Offences Against Privacy”, and those engaging in it can be prosecuted upon the victim’s request.

Although the criminal offence of the unauthorised use of personal data had already been included in the Croatian Criminal Code, it didn’t provide a framework for the prosecution of the use of photographs and videos which, at the time, were made with the victim’s prior consent, nor did it take into consideration the fact that such footage is usually made in consensual, sexually intimate situations based on trust, which puts the victim in an especially vulnerable position. 

With this in mind, Article 144a of Criminal Code states that ”Whoever abuses a relationship of trust and without the consent of the filmed person and makes available to a third party a recording of sexually explicit content taken with the consent of that person for personal use and thus violates that person’s privacy, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to one year.

(2) The punishment referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article shall be imposed on anyone who uses a computer system or otherwise creates a new or alters an existing recording of sexually explicit content and uses that recording as a right, thereby violating the privacy of the person on that recording.

(3) Whoever commits the criminal offence referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article via a computer system or network or in any other way due to which the recording has become available to a larger number of persons shall be punished by imprisonment for up to three years.”

If you were to compare the earlier and the present version of the text of the Criminal Code, you’d also notice that small but still important changes were also made to chapters that have to do with security measures, crimes against sexual freedom, and the non-enforcement of measures to protect the well-being of children and other vulnerable groups.

Perhaps influenced by the 2020 report of the Parliament’s Committee for Gender Equality, which cites an increase in domestic violence of 43% in comparison to 2019, as well as the tragic death of a two-year-old girl at the hands of her parents, these changes are, hopefully, harbingers of a more consistent and stricter applications of Croatian criminal law. 

For example, security measures (which can be rendered in addition to a prison sentence for certain crimes) no longer depend on the discretionary decision of a judge in the criminal procedure.

For an illustration, perpetrators of offences against children, offences against life and limb, as well as offences against humanity, to name a few, are be prohibited from engaging in duty or profession related to children, for a set period of time or indefinitely, even if the offence in question didn’t occur during the exercise of such a duty or the taking up of a profession.

The previous legal framework allowed the judge to decide whether or not the application of this measure is unnecessary, even when the abovementioned crimes had been committed.

The situation is similar for the security measure of removing the domestic abuse offender from the household they share with the victim. Again, the court must apply this measure while it previously depended on the court’s free assessment.

Another important change is the introduction of a ”present or former intimate partner” under the definition of a close person. Closely related to this, sexual harassment, which could previously be prosecuted only on the victim’s request, will from now on be prosecuted ex officio.

Finally, the offence of the non-enforcement of the decision to protect children made by a court, a centre for social welfare or a state body now protects other vulnerable categories of persons too, such as pregnant women and persons with significant mental or physical impairment. Penalties are imposed not only onto those who don’t enforce decisions of the cited authorities, but also those who don’t enforce them promptly or grossly disregard the rules of their profession, resulting in the endangerment of the health or development of a child, i.e., the health or well-being of another vulnerable person.

Bearing all of this in mind, adapting the laws to the changing times is not enough. The most important test of having an efficient legal system comes with correct and timely execution. As can be seen in the previous paragraph, responsibility for this rests not only on the police, courts, and state attorneys but on everyone whose job description entails working with vulnerable groups.

While introducing new offences to combat unwanted behaviours is commendable, it would also be good to raise Croatia’s overall social awareness of the effect our actions can have on others.

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