A year of #MeToo in Lithuania -- when speaking up fails

Legal mechanisms still fail #MeToo victims in search of justice.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
A year of #MeToo in Lithuania -- when speaking up fails - NewsMavens
Sarunas Bartas , Wikimedia commons

Why this story matters:

Forgive them, for they are tormented geniuses -- such is often the attitude towards predatory men in the world of the arts. In Lithuania, the flood of exposure of behaviour tolerated for decades started with a young actress and colourist, who has since given up on acting. After Julija Steponaitytė spoke out on social networks against well-known director Sarunas Bartas , Paulė Bocullaitė, an artist who has worked with him, shared a similar story. Bocullaitė, however, reported the case to the police only to see it fizzle away, with Bartas being charged only for "hooliganism" (a write-up in English is available here).

Later, a respected art lecturer at the Academy of Art, Jonas Gasiūnas, faced accusations of sexual assault from multiple former students. One of them said she left the world of painting altogether because it became too difficult. In total, 19 former students signed a formal complaint, and a pre-trial investigation against Gasiūnas is ongoing. Two more art lecturers have been accused and no longer work at the academy.

Although many famous persons, from TV hosts to artists and academics, have expressed support to the young women reliving their trauma years later, many also find it irrelevant to investigate what happened years ago.

Although universities are promising improvement in sexual misconduct investigations, survivors have pointed out that existing formal mechanisms often failed to protect victims from men in positions of power.

Details from the story:

  • In November 2017, colourist Julija Steponaitytė accused widely acclaimed director Šarūnas Bartas of sexual assault. She has not lived in Lithuania for three years and decided that the time and space between her and the past events offers her safe distance.
  • The director, as well as the Lithuanian Film Centre, which supports local film production, ignored the questions posed. The institution reportedly mentioned "being aware that the girl was drunk" at the time of the assault, and continued to feature Bartas in cinema events. Bartas also received state funding to create a new film.
  • In March this year, the Film Centre admitted having received a petition from numerous artists and promised to organize training on preventing sexual harassment in the industry -- to Steponaitytė's best knowledge, this hasn't happened.
  • Steponaitytė gave an interview ahead of a film festival that tackled the legacy of #MeToo. She said she has become more confident, but lost faith in some people she used to respect. After sharing her story, she received messages from numerous young women who shared similar stories.
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