Her face graced billboards in Belgrade. She appeared repeatedly in Serbian motion pictures, magazines and tv exhibits. Trained on the prestigious Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, Danijela Stajnfeld had, by the age of 26 in 2011, gained two main theater prizes and was a everlasting member with the esteemed Belgrade Drama Theater.
The following 12 months, she abruptly and mysteriously dropped from public view. It wasn’t till final summer time that she publicly revealed why.
In her documentary, “Hold Me Right,” about victims and perpetrators of sexual assault, Stajnfeld stated that she too had been sexually assaulted eight years earlier by a robust Serbian man, which had prompted her transfer to the United States.
When the movie premiered final 12 months on the Sarajevo Film Festival, Stajnfeld stated she was nervous however couldn’t think about its inflicting waves. “I thought no one remembered me, I didn’t keep in touch with anyone in Serbia,” she stated in an interview.
The media firestorm that erupted inside days of the premiere proved her flawed.
Stajnfeld’s face was out of the blue everywhere in the Serbian press once more. Television and on-line commentators praised her for talking out or savaged her for not disclosing the person’s title.
She stated she didn’t establish the person as a result of she wished the movie to deal with survivors and therapeutic, quite than singling out a perpetrator. But the nation’s tabloids speculated wildly about his identification. Reporters approached Stajnfeld’s unsuspecting dad and mom of their small village. Critics questioned her motives. “Sick!” learn one headline. “Actress made up the rape to advertise her film.”
Even for somebody who had grown up in Serbia, the place sexism and male chauvinism are deeply entrenched, the blowback was beautiful, Stajnfeld stated. While the nation has taken steps to advance the reason for girls’s rights in recent times — in 2013 it ratified a human rights conference addressing gender-based violence — in Serbia, as within the surrounding area, sexual harassment and assaults are nonetheless solely hardly ever reported, and sufferer shaming abounds.
“After opening up, it was so liberating; I thought the narrative was in my hands,” Stajnfeld stated. “But it caused even more unsafety and ridiculous dehumanization.”
But in current months, spurred partly by the movie, the temper in some quarters has modified. In January, a number of different Serbian actresses got here out publicly with allegations that they’d been raped, and a MeToo-like motion roared to life on this area the place the tradition of calling out abusers had but to achieve a foothold.
Using the hashtag #NisiSama, which suggests “You are not alone,” and on the Facebook web page Nisam Trazila, or “I didn’t ask for it,” which has 40,000 followers, supporters urged that victims of sexual harassment be believed and perpetrators be held to account.
“We have followed what was happening around the globe with the #MeToo movement, but I think we needed authentic voices of women from this region in order to have this kind of reaction,” Sanja Pavlovic, of the Autonomous Women’s Center in Belgrade, stated in an e mail.
Last week Stajnfeld, who lives in New York, flew to Serbia, met with the police and prosecutors and recognized the person who she stated assaulted her as Branislav Lecic.
Her disclosure refueled the media blitz, partially as a result of Lecic, 65, is a famed determine in Serbia, not solely a outstanding actor but in addition a professor and former minister of tradition. Only weeks in the past, he had spoken out in opposition to sexual assault.
“When a woman says no, that’s the end of it. I don’t understand that someone can’t control their urges,” he informed one Serbian newspaper.
Stajnfeld says that assertion, partially, was what compelled her to publicly title him.
Lecic has denied any sexual contact with Stajnfeld, with whom he acted in a play, “Daily Command,” on the time in 2012 when she says the assault occurred.
“I have never had sexual contact with her. Everything else would be a lie!” Lecic wrote in a WhatsApp message.
But Stajnfeld supplied prosecutors and members of the media with an audio recording of her confronting him in a Belgrade restaurant in December 2016, during which he acknowledges that she stated no to his advances. Excerpts of the audio, distilled from an extended tape, with the person’s voice disguised, are included within the movie.
In the recording, she says a number of occasions that she needs he had revered the truth that she had objected to his actions, however she doesn’t go into element about what then transpired.
“Back then I felt jeopardized. Can you understand that?” Stajnfeld says on the tape.
“I can understand that, but it’s a big mistake, because my expression of tenderness indeed means my respect,” Lecic replied, saying it was an achievement “that you triggered my attention and feeling.”
Lecic stated what occurred should “feel like an honor, not to put you in jeopardy.” “Who do you think I am?” he continued. “As if I don’t respect who I am.”
In the recording, Lecic additionally pushed again on Stajnfeld’s assertion that if she says no, she means no. “It doesn’t work like that,” he stated, later including, “Life is unpredictable, like a game.”
In current days, Lecic, speaking over WhatsApp, stated that he and Stajnfeld met on the restaurant to debate a possible collaboration, and that the audio supplied by Stajnfeld was incomplete: An extended model, he stated, would reveal the broader context, that they had been merely improvising dialogue, and that she was probably claiming he assaulted her to achieve publicity for her movie.
“Maybe she was expecting something more, maybe it’s because nothing happened that she wants revenge, and maybe she wants to build her story through me,” he wrote. “Bad marketing is also marketing.”
But Stajnfeld supplied a 77-minute audio file that she says represents practically all of their roughly 90-minute dialog: The tape reduce off, she stated, when her telephone battery died. Parts of their dialog are inaudible, and drowned out by background noise. Still, there is no such thing as a indication they had been rehearsing dialogue. Though the voices are muffled at occasions and the banter typically appears pleasant, Stajnfeld’s voice will get sterner as she describes how damage she was by his actions. Lecic responds in a means that implies he believed that what occurred was consensual.
When they started rehearsing the play, Stajnfeld stated she considered Lecic as a mentor and a buddy, till he started propositioning her to have intercourse. Then, in the future, in his dressing room, she stated he abruptly shoved his hand up her gown. Stajnfeld stated she pulled away and fled, surprised, however opted to not inform the director as a result of she was nervous she wouldn’t be believed, and that it might damage her profession. Lecic denied any sexual encounter passed off.
At the time, she stated in an interview, she had already approached Lecic, who she considered as an influential political determine, for a reference letter to use for an American work visa. She stated she was searching for alternatives within the United States, however by no means meant to desert her Serbian profession.
She stated Lecic first insisted they stroll in a park close by. Then, she stated, on what she assumed was a raise house, he drove within the flawed route, scary her, and telling her he was taking her to see an attractive view of Belgrade.
When they arrived at a home on a hill within the metropolis’s outskirts, she stated Lecic undressed her and sexually assaulted her, even though she was crying and repeatedly stated no.
“In that moment, I was so tortured,” she continued. “He was asking me to do stuff for him. I wanted to do anything for this torture to stop. I couldn’t move my arms, my mouth, I couldn’t stop crying,” she stated.
Franz Stefan Gady, who used to this point Stajnfeld and was residing in Stockholm on the time, stated inside days she had supplied him with an account of getting been sexually assaulted by the “older guy” within the play.
Stajnfeld stated she informed police and prosecutors final week the identical particulars of her encounters with Lecic within the dressing room and on the home. But she had not gone to the authorities on the time, she stated, as a result of she feared her story could be leaked to the press and her profession ruined. Instead, she booked a ticket to the United States the place, in New York, she started to unravel. She had panic assaults and later thought of suicide, however with the assistance of remedy and sufferer help teams, she grew to become decided to beat the trauma. She started interviewing and filming survivors, and what began as a 10-minute quick ended up rising, over the course of three-and-a-half years, into her first feature-length movie as a director.
Stajnfeld stated she by no means meant to insert her personal story into her movie, however after seeing the tough reduce, she knew she needed to embrace her expertise too.
“For the sake of justice, for the sake of my healing, for the sake of other victims in the region, I’m speaking out now,” she stated within the interview with The Times.
The movie is scheduled to display on the Martovski movie competition in Belgrade later this spring, she stated, adopted by a U.S. launch.
After the premiere of Stajnfeld’s movie final summer time, media commentators stated she needs to be ashamed, that she had slept with a person to get a task, that she ought to title him or else be prosecuted, that she dishonored girls who had actually been raped, and that she seemed too glad in a current televised interview to have been a sufferer.
“The public opinion took a tabloid approach, hungry for blood, public humiliation, shame and guilt,” stated Snezana Dakic, a Serbian tv presenter. “And that is exactly opposite from how this problem should be treated.”
Whatever private catharsis the movie represents, extra individuals are seeing Stajnfeld’s movie as a spark for the groundswell of help for sexual assault victims underway in Serbia and the encompassing Balkan area.
“Danijela’s case gave wings to other women, actresses, to talk about what happened to them,” stated Dragana Grncarski, a former mannequin and public determine. “Coming out in the open, they prevent things like that from happening to other women.”
Indira Okay. Skoric supplied translations.