In a radical overhaul of the country’s antiquated rape laws, Germany’s parliament unanimously passed legislation for “improving the protection of sexual self-determination,” making it easier for assault victims to file criminal complaints without having to prove they tried to resist the attack.
Previously, rape was only punishable if the victim showed physical signs of resisting the assailant. A simple verbal “no” will now suffice — as it should’ve ages ago.
The new “no means no” approach not only closes the “blatant loopholes,” according to Justice Minister Heiko Maas, but also widens the definition of rape by classifying sexual activity that goes against the “discernible will” of the victim — such as groping — as a sex crime.
“In the past there were cases where women were raped but the perpetrators couldn't be punished,” said Minister for Women Manuela Schwesig said. “The change in the law will help increase the number of victims who choose to press charges, lower the number of criminal prosecutions that are shelved and ensure sexual assaults are properly punished.”
While activists protested Germany’s outdated rape laws for years, two recent events brought steam to the movement. One of them was the acquittal of two men accused of drugging and raping German model Gina-Lisa Lohfink, which drew comparisons to the Stanford rape case in the United States. The second event was the New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne, where large groups of men sexually assaulted hundreds of women.
Under the new law, it would be easier to prosecute assaults committed by large group.
“It is crucial that we finally embed the principle of 'no means no' in criminal law and make every nonconsensual sexual act a punishable offense,” said Social Democratic Party lawmaker Eva Högl ahead of the parliamentary vote on Thursday.
Although the new legislation is far from perfect, since loopholes make it hard to prove lack of consent if a victim is unconscious or drugged, it is a step in the right direction as Germany lagged behind other developed nations, particularly the rest of Europe, when it comes to rape laws.