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Rapes Classified as Grievous Crime in Kazakhstan

According to experts, the problem won’t be solved by toughened punishment only. It requires a complex approach.

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Irina lives in Nur-Sultan, she’s 40. She has established herself as a professional, got married and has two children.

More than 25 years ago, she became a victim of sexual abuse by her family member, the grandmother’s husband. For eight years, he had raped little Irina, until she got pregnant when she was 15. The pregnancy had to be terminated. Then followed proceedings, interrogations, face-to-face questionings, accusations. However, they never made it to court.

He [the rapist] was looking at me and laughing. I can clearly remember the interrogation office. I was always sitting staring down and mumbling something or rather excusing myself. No one around trusted me and I wanted to prove I was innocent.

I felt no one trusted me. This feeling got even stronger when he escaped. They trusted him and let him go. And I still have this feeling of guilt.

I avoided passing by the prosecution office building for a long time. I was feared. Even now, when the building belongs to a social security department, I automatically look at that window.

He escaped and when Irina was 20, she was told he died in Russia and asked to sign “some papers.” She has been undergoing psychological rehabilitation for the last two years. She decided to do it only after she understood that her past could have an impact on her children. She feels worried about the fact that they could suffer the same fate.

For rehabilitation, Irina had to collect all the papers to reconstruct the past and she found out that her rapist didn’t die 20 years ago. She decided to find him and did in just a half-day. He lives in Nur-Sultan.

“A little girl pointed at his house. When I asked, “How do you know him?”, the girl said he was her grandmother’s friend. What’s the likelihood that he doesn’t continue raping,” Irina wonders.

Women’s rights at the last place?

55 repeated offences have been registered in Kazakhstan in five years. However, in May 2000 the parliament of Kazakhstan re-classified “Rape” as crime of average gravity. It lets to dismiss cases due to conciliation of parties at the investigation stage. As a result, the rapist goes unpunished.

For 5 years, 72 cases ended in conciliation of parties. Due to impunity, there’s a risk of a repeated crime.

In September 2018, a woman was raped by two conductors in her compartment in the Talgo high-speed train. It took her almost a year to prove the fact of rape to the investigation and court, and on July 26 the rapists were sentenced to as little as 2.5 years each.

19 years ago, rape in Kazakhstan was classified as the grievous crime. But in 2000, after the Criminal Code was amended, it was re-classified as crime of average gravity.

The case with rape on the train draw public response and this September President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev in his message to the people said that the state went too far with the humanisation of the legislation.

We should toughen up punishment for sexual abuse, paedophilia, distribution of narcotics, human trafficking, domestic violence against women, and other grievous crimes against personality, especially children as soon as possible. This is my order to the parliament and the government.

The parliament urgently developed a respective draft law on re-classification of such crimes as grievous ones. It was already approved by the deputies of mazhilis in the first reading.

  • Imprisonment from 5 to 10 years is provided for the rape (article 120 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan). Now, the punishment is from 3 to 5 years. If rape is committed under aggravating circumstances, the proposed punishment is from 12 to 17 years in prison. Now, it is 10 to 15 years.
  • For “Sexual battery” (article 121 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan), they propose to sentence to 3 to 7 years in prison.  Now, the punishment is from 3 to 5 years. If the violence was committed under aggravating circumstances, the imprisonment will be 7 to 12 years or 12 to 15 years, depending on the circumstances of the crime.

The initiator of the draft law, deputy of mazhilis Nurzhan Altaev, said the document provides for the re-classification of sex crimes as grievous ones, which provides for the increase in the terms of punishment and eliminates any conciliation of parties. Now, according to Altaev, rapists have a lawful chance to meet with the victim and persuade her into conciliation and threaten her with bodily harm.

“We need to eliminate the release on parole as we see now that a person is sentenced to some five years and is released in just two years on parole and openly laughs at his victims. We need to stop this! Also, I propose that term of imprisonment for rape should be increased up to life imprisonment,” Altaev specified his proposals.

However, according to activist Fariza Ospan, the number of rapes will not go down just because now the term of imprisonment will be 5 years and more.

“We need to do a great job, which our state is not going to do so far. We need to work with inmates to prevent repetition of crimes; we need to train police officers to make them adequately and quickly respond to rape facts, instead of mocking at the victims and saying, ‘What were you  wearing?’, ‘Were you drunk or sober?’,” Ospan said.

Besides, she said that victims of violence should be provided with free and quality services of psychologists.

“When I deal with all this stuff, I understand how much needs to be done, and then I become outraged because I don’t get it whether the people in power really don’t understand all of it. They get it for sure, but it’s not their priority. In Kazakhstan, women’s rights are at the last place,” the activist said.

In her opinion, Kazakhstan should eliminate every possibility of conciliation between parties in rape and violence cases, and all cases should be brought to trial even if the victim wants to retract her complaint. So far, the situation is quite different. 

According to the analysis by Factcheck.kz, Kazakhstan holds the first place among CIS by the number of victims of sexual violence. In 4 years 9 months of 2019, the country registered 12,246 cases. 4,403 of them, a third part of all registered cases, came to court. However, the majority of victims of sexual violence don’t appeal to the police.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an American non-profit anti-sexual assault organisation, only 8.4 to 35 per cent of rape cases in the world are being registered by police.

“[Victims of assault] don’t go to the police because they are afraid of publicity. In our mentality, a person becomes “dirty”, “dishonoured” after rape,” psychotherapist Natalia Oberdefe said.

The number of rape or violence complaints filed in Kazakhstan gets down every year. If 3,577 cases were registered in 2014, the number decreased three times in 9 months of 2019.

Lawyer Dzhokhar Utebekov said the prosecutor’s supervision over registration of offences has weakened. While Fariza Ospan said the reason that the majority of criminal cases and complaints go unnoticed and don’t come to court is in public “uyat” (“shame” in Kazakh).

“Girls or boys, or whoever, who become the victims of sexual violence have to face misunderstanding and public stigmatisation. Humiliation is what they get instead of support. They fear no one would trust them and the rapist would bribe the police officers and the judge. Sometimes, the rapist’s family gets involved and asks the victim to withdraw the complaint by means of threats and moral coercion,” the activist said.

At the same time, the possible reason for the decline in the number of registered crimes, according to the leader of NeMolchi.Kz fund, Dina Tansari, could be the political situation in Kazakhstan.

“Our authorities were engaged in crackdown on protests. The police spent all time on political campaigns, while such offences were paid little attention,” Tansari said.

Every day, the fund’s hotline receives about 7-8 calls. According to Tansari, they cannot help in all cases, and often win the cases when victim’s relatives gather and go to courts and all instances to protect the victim.

“90 per cent of cases lose because the law doesn’t provide for a free lawyer and psychologist to the victim, because the majority of cases fall apart during the pre-trial investigation. Only 30 per cent of cases that come to court end with the imprisonment of the rapist,” the leader of NeMolchiKz fund said.


Irina met her rapist to overcome this fear as part of her counselling programme. He didn’t apologise to her and had lived all these years in fear of imprisonment.

The woman’s disease is now inactive under the control of an experienced psychotherapist. Also, she is earning her second degree in psychology and thinks that toughened punishment won’t change anything. The victims should be provided with mental counselling and environment favourable for successful rehabilitation.

“25 years have passed and nothing has changed. My rapist is still at large,” Irina said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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