The Senate – Judiciary Committee: increased punishments for sexual offences and human trafficking

Today, the senators in the Judiciary Committee voted the legislative proposal for amending the Criminal Code (Penal Code) and the Criminal Procedure Code. The initiative was submitted to the Parliament by the independent member of the Parliament Oana Bizgan. The proposal provides a series of modifications related to sexual crimes with underage victims, including the increase of punishment for this type of aggressions, so the suspended sentences will not be possible anymore for those offenders. Following the debated amendments and the commitments made by the Commission, the initiative also modifies other offences such as human trafficking, sexual corruption and infantile pornography.

The changes brought by this legislative initiative are in accordance with Directive 2011/93/EU of the European Parliament for combating child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and infantile pornography. In 2015, the European Commission warned Romania, through an infringement procedure, regarding the lack of legislative harmonization when it comes to sexual abuse of minors.

“We have worked extremely well in cooperation with the Judiciary Committee and the Ministry of Justice, so that we can prevail and make the necessary changes to protect the victim and not the offender. The initiative started with the desire of prohibiting suspended sentences for sexual offenders, especially when it comes to sexual intercourse with a minor (statutory rape) or even rape.  The law indicates that a child under the age of 14 years old does not hold criminal liability for his/her actions. In the eventuality that the victims are the same age, there have been cases in which they have been found guilty for being abused, even if the offender’s age is 3 or 4 times of the victim’s. I strongly believe that today’s vote is the first step through which we can explicitly express that we do not tolerate sexual abuse and that the law does indeed serve the victim. ”- declared the initiator of the project, independent MP Oana Bizgan

At the national level, data gathered by of the Superior Council of Magistracy shows that in the last 9 years there have been registered 8543 rape cases and 2927 of statutory rape cases. In 2017, out of the all statutory rape cases, only 42,17% have been definitively sentenced by the judges, under the data offered by the Judicial Ministry. 50% of them were suspended punishments and only 25,77% of the cases have been finalized with detention. Oana Bîzgan (independent MP) presented, in several articles published on her website, the situation of sexual abuses against children in Romania.  From the total of offenders that have been condemned to detention, approximately 88% have been punished with sentences under 5 years (complete data

The main changes the initiative brings on refers to the increase of sentences for sexual crimes against children, the increase of victim’s age or the completion of the aggravating circumstances. Therefore, for rape cases, the condemned persons can be sentenced to: 5-10 years (3-10 according to the law in force); 7 to 12 years if the victim is a minor (5-12 years according to the law); 7 to 15 years if the victim is a minor and there are also aggravating circumstances; 9 to 18 years (7-18 years according to the law) in the eventuality the victim dies as a consequence of the abuse. For the cases of statutory rape, the punishments will be increased, so that the sentence are not to be suspended especially if the offender is an adult or if the crime committed had aggravating implications.

“We observed that the number of sexual crimes with minors has been increasing and it concerns us very much. Under those conditions, we tried to identify whether if the main cause comes from the courts of justice or if the punishments proposed by law are too gentle, respectively suspended prison sentences without restricting or controlling the freedom of the offender through the sanctioning regimen proposed by the legislative system. We came to the conclusion that there is the need for toughening the sanctions provided and the elimination of all possibilities of suspending punishments, prioritizing the superior interest of minors. From my point of view, the conclusion drawn today is the right one and I believe it will materialize within the General Assembly as well. It is also an European Directive which must be implemented, but we must also find a way to adapt it to the Romanian reality.” – declared Șerban Nicolae, PSD Senator and President of the Judiciary Committee within the Senate.

“As a consequence of the escalation of child sexual harassment cases, at the Parliamentary level, we considered necessary to establish measures that provide a more strict approach of sexual crimes with minor victims. Such events have a dramatic impact on children, sometimes making it extremely difficult to recover both physically and mentally. The increase of the minimum punishment limit for sexual abuse against minors it is a legislative necessity, as in the last years the crimes have also included aggravating circumstances that shocked the public opinion, and some having an alarming frequency including the same offenders. We have reached a consensus aan the Judiciary Commission agreed upon by all political parties to offer judges procedural guarantees and all means necessary to punish the offenders who have committed sex crimes against minors.”- declared Iulia Scantei, PNL Senator, VP of Judiciary Committee

Additionally, the Penal Code will be modified so that the aggravating circumstances to include the situation in which the offender and the victim live together, not only the situation in which they are family. Thus, the cases in which a minor is abused by the mother’s concubine, the punishment is more severe. It will also be included the situation that endangered the life of victim and not just bodily harm.

Other important changes debated by the Judiciary Commission refer to the persons involved in human trafficking – the punishment to be raised between 5-10 years in prison compared to 3-10, and 7 – 12 instead to 5-12. “Considering the fact that we come first regarding human trafficking at the level of the European Union, the new changes are only a small step in the right direction. We need urgent measures in order to protect minors and the persons that are in danger of human trafficking – starting with infrastructure, reporting and monitoring the cases, to efficient international collaborations with competent institutions in other countries. ”- said Oana Bizgan, independent MP.

All the modifications of the new legislative initiative are available here