27 Feb 2019

Who’s really siding with rapists -- Austria or the Polish nationalist media?

In Vienna, you will pay a fine for defending yourselves against a rapist, according to claims by a Polish nationalist news site that reports on sexual violence only when the suspected attackers are immigrants.

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During a New Year’s Eve party on the Rathausplatz in Vienna, a 21-year old Swiss woman was groped by a 20-year old Afghan man. The woman hit the attacker in defense, breaking his nose. The man was taken to the hospital. He has been charged with sexual assault, while the woman has been charged with causing bodily harm.


A Polish news site Media Narodowe (National Media) reports on the story with the headline

Defending yourself against a rapist? Watch out! In Vienna, you will pay a fine”.

Later in the text, the headline is rephrased shortly into “Defending yourself? You will pay dearly.” Describing the legal situation, the article says “The Viennese woman also has to stand before the court and answer for her deeds. In the worst case, she will have to pay a fine of 150 euros.” The website blames the whole situation on “the politically correct environment that makes victims into assailants.


Whether the woman pays a fine for bodily harm is indeed going to be decided in court. This is, however, not the result of “political correctness”, but is rather one of the rules of the Austrian penal code.

As the spokesperson for the Viennese police explains for the website Kurier.at, each case of bodily harm must be investigated by the public prosecutor’s office. Even if the police clearly saw that this was self-defense, the matter still would need to be formally decided by the court. This however, does not mean that the Swiss woman will inevitably be fined, as the article from Media Narodowe suggests.

Furthermore, the news piece consistently calls the assailant a “rapist”, which is not an accurate description of the crime he is accused of committing. The Swiss tourist is also incorrectly described as “Viennese”, which only accentuates the local vs immigrant narrative. Additionally, in line with the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agenda of the whole website, the Afghan man is sarcastically described as “surely a young engineer or a medical student.

Media Narodowe is a website established by an alliance of Polish nationalist and far-right groups who also organize the yearly Independence March, a nationalist demonstration with a history of racist slogans and violent incidents. News articles by Media Narodowe are distributed through the Facebook fanpage "Independence March" which has over 260,000 likes.

The racist and anti-immigrant agenda of the whole website provides the context for the manipulation in the article about the Vienna case. The website often reports on sexual violence, but the news pieces almost exclusively concern cases of sexual violence perpetrated by immigrants and foreigners, especially those of Middle Eastern origin. Among dozens of articles tagged  “rape” and “harassment”, there are virtually no reports of rapes committed in Poland and perpetrated by Polish men -- with a few rare exceptions, such as one describing of a Polish man wrongly convicted of rape and murder.

When this fact is compared with the official numbers and statistics on rape in Poland, the bias becomes even more obvious. According to the statistics of the Polish Police, 2,486 cases of rape were investigated in Poland in 2017, of which 1,262 were confirmed at the time the statistical data was published. This gives, on average, more than three confirmed rapes per day. The most recent police data on foreigners suspected of crimes in Poland comes from 2012, when there were 2,152 foreigners under suspicion, with the vast majority coming from other European countries and not a single one from a Middle Eastern country (out of suspects coming from non-European countries, there were 19 persons from China, 2 from Israel, 4 from Mongolia, 9 from Pakistan, 6 from USA and 44 from Vietnam).

At the same time, the overall number of detected offences in Poland in the same year was 449,460. When the numbers are compared, it can be safely assumed that the vast majority of rapes (as well as other offences) committed in Poland are perpetrated by Polish men.

It also needs to be stressed that rape is a notoriously underreported category of crime: in a survey done by a feminist NGO Fundacja STER, as many as 91.8% of respondents who had been raped in their lifetime never went to the police.


The treatment of the topic of sexual violence by Media Narodowe shows that it is relevant to them only when it can be used to inspire racist sentiments. In the process, the real violence against women is trivialized and used to serve their political agenda. This specific news piece from Media Narodowe also employs manipulation of facts about the case recorded in Vienna, and biased reporting in line with their usual practice of selecting news according to ethnicity of the perpetrators of sexual violence.  


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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