sophie pinkham

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This weekend in Kyiv, Ukrainian activists—most of them young women—marched against gender-based violence, chanting, “I am not afraid to speak! I am not afraid to act!” Some carried posters referring to a recent case in which a man convicted of violent rape of a minor was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay just 3000 hryvnia ($120) in “moral compensation.” The judge stated that the defendant’s military service in eastern Ukraine constituted an extenuating circumstance—an alarming precedent. The ruling came in the midst of the “I am not afraid to speak” (#янебоюсясказати) online movement, in which Ukrainians shared their experiences of sexual assault.

Onlookers’ response to the protest was mixed. “Lots of women refused to take my fliers,” said Viktoria Korobkina, a 23-year-old student. “One said, ‘I don’t need that—I haven’t been assaulted.’ But another woman came up to me and asked for information about where to get help.”

Many of the police officers providing security for the protest were young women recruited during Ukraine’s recent police reforms. “It’s easier for a woman to talk to another woman,” said police officer Valentina Zalensko, when asked about how the presence of women in the police force might help improve the response to gender-based violence. “But every situation is different, and it’s easier to talk about problems than to solve them.”