At the beginning of May, the Prague police reported on the case of a man accused of raping five children in Vinohrady park. Jan Machuta is the head of the team investigating this case, as well as the most serious cases of sexual violence.
He can’t say more about the Vinohrady investigation – the case is still being worked on, the accused is in custody, and Machut’s people are questioning witnesses. However, he spoke to the List of Reports about cases of sexual violence.
In the interview, he explains why many cases remain hidden forever or how sexual predators abuse the internet and how it makes it difficult to investigate their crimes. He also talks about how he copes with often appalling cases.
A person must be a professional, he must not let the case go so that it does not grind him, Jan Machuta describes between the speeches.
Prague Department of Moral Crime
The third department of the Regional Directorate of the Police of the Capital City of Prague investigates and detects the most serious moral crimes committed by the offender in the territory of the Capital City of Prague. It investigates so-called “seventeen cases”, ie moral crimes with a lower sentence of at least 5 years.
In practice, this most often means the crime of raping people under the age of 15, trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, cases of sexual coercion or more extensive cases of sexual abuse.
Your department investigates sexually motivated crimes against children. Is it true that the perpetrator is usually known or directly related to the victim?
It pays. In most cases, we notice some relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. For people under the age of 15, the percentage is relatively high, the perpetrator is often someone from a close circle of children. Someone close to whom the child should find a sense of security and safety, instead betrays the child, hurts him.
How do they feel when such people are in court?
Contradictory. The policeman knows how the perpetrator behaved, what caused all the victims. However, a completely different person comes to court in quotation marks. He is in a suit, performs well and mainly brings his own version of the story, in which he often tries to discredit the victim.
Do offenders receive sufficiently high penalties?
I speak for myself – I think in many cases they would deserve higher. Especially for sexually motivated crime. That attitude may be due to the fact that we are in direct contact with both the injured party and the suspect throughout the investigation and investigation. We know how they behave, what they experience, how difficult it is for victims to cope with the consequences of the perpetrator’s actions. It affects us more. I would certainly welcome more severe penalties.
Is it possible to estimate how many such cases the victims or witnesses will report?
No, no one will guess at all. Moral crime has the highest latency rate. The police will not find out about most of these crimes, they will remain in the gray zone.
One of the main reasons is the already mentioned close relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, as well as the fear of the reaction of the immediate surroundings, family, classmates, partner, fear of the approach of law enforcement authorities. In many cases, it is also the young age of the victim and the resulting dependence on the perpetrator.
You can ruin his reputation
Some time ago, it was said that the police had interrogation rooms specially adapted for children in these cases. Are there any new trends in the investigation?
I don’t know if you can talk about trends. The truth is that a relatively large proportion of moral crime has moved to the Internet. Whether it is cases of child pornography, sexual coercion or luring children into meetings for the purpose of their abuse, etc. In this context, we need to work with colleagues in the cybercrime department.
The environment of specialized interrogation rooms is far more comfortable for the victims than a strict police office. However, one thing is the environment in which the interrogation takes place, and perhaps more importantly, the personality of the interrogator. It is mainly about people, whether in the position of detectives or investigators, whether they have the appropriate experience and knowledge, are sufficiently empathetic and communicative and therefore able to “execute” the victim through criminal proceedings in such a way as to avoid secondary victimization.
Is the attitude of the public or even of police officers on duty stations changing to sexually motivated crimes?
Society has always been extremely sensitive to sexually motivated crime, especially in the case of child victims. I must say that most of the people we contact with our cooperation are helpful, because they perceive the seriousness of these cases. As far as police officers are concerned, we are trying to build a system of their lifelong learning. I think the results are visible.
And when it comes to blaming the victims? For example, in the sense of “They’re to blame when they wear clothes like that”?
Stereotypes, prejudices and myths remain. Unfortunately, both in lay society and in professional society. The tendency to pass the blame on the victim, of course, remains here and does not just disappear. This stems from insufficient knowledge of the issue.
Does the victim continue to communicate with the perpetrator? Some of the girls who accused the deputy Dominic Feri of raping were still in contact with him, perhaps by writing to him. Does that mean they couldn’t be victims?
I don’t know the case personally, I haven’t read the file. But in general, this certainly does not mean that these women cannot be victims. In my eyes, it doesn’t bother them in any way. Every case is different. Moral crime is also very easily exploited. When you wrongly accuse someone of rape, a piece of dirt always sticks to them, even if they are finally cleaned. And you can ruin his reputation for the rest of his life.
How often do you come across something like this?
We meet with targeted announcements. I don’t want to say often, but also not rarely. The whistleblower knows that his testimony is false, driven by a desire to avenge, to destroy another person’s life, to blacken him. Very often in our cases, this occurs when partnerships break down, whether marriage or a mate. In cases where a decision is placed on the custody of a child, mothers want to wean the father from the child’s upbringing, they will use a special announcement. These cases are very difficult to explain because the age of the alleged victims is usually relatively low and for this reason their questioning is complicated.
Are such targeted announcements aimed exclusively at men?
I would say that in ninety percent of cases, the victim is a man. Not that men don’t report on purpose, but that’s a smaller percentage than women. In the same way, in the case of special-purpose notifications, we encounter notifiers who bear a psychiatric burden that may be reflected in their notification.
When the victims will respond
Do you have feedback from the victims? How do they feel that they have reported the act or participated in the investigation?
We do not do anything like that systematically. We do not get to such information often.
Is it more difficult for victims to respond when the perpetrator is a celebrity? Maybe because they expect a negative public attitude?
Rather, they are afraid to be believed. If they are to oppose someone who enjoys authority, who has a certain social status, they are afraid that they have any chance of succeeding in criminal proceedings. Again, we encounter prejudices and stereotypes. Indeed, part of the public believes that a successful, educated man with authority can never commit such deeds. And it is not so. This may be one of the reasons why some cases have remained undecided for decades.
This has happened in several known cases recently. The women victims did not speak publicly until many years later. Is it typical?
I wouldn’t say typical, but it’s not uncommon. The victims must find the strength to open the matter, to stop further action by the perpetrator. Sometimes the motive for coming to the police is to testify with their testimony to support the victim who was the first to report the case and is dishonored and disadvantaged in return. They need to stand up and say: The same thing happened to us, it’s not about fiction.
What role does the media coverage of these cases play in this?
In the case of minors or juveniles, media coverage should be considered there when the police turn to the public for help. Or if he wants to draw attention to a social problem, such as child abuse in the Internet environment.
And in the case of adult victims?
The criminal proceedings themselves are not public. Media coverage can help the victims of a rapist learn that the police are dealing with their case, and it can play a role in their decision as to whether or not to report to the police with their testimony.
In cases of child abuse on the Internet, it is probably even more difficult to find out that something has happened…
There are a variety of reasons why the damage is not reported in these cases, and most are understandable to me. It’s hard for kids to go out with the whole truth. They are often blackmailed by the perpetrator only because they are ashamed of the content of their communication, they are afraid to be open to their parents. The problem sometimes is that children have to admit the full content of their communication, they may be worried about their parents’ reaction, as they would find that children know certain terms and actively use them. Despite all the prevention, the efforts of the media and experts, this problem is becoming more and more acute.