Politics & Media
Jul 12, 2016, 08:10AM

Germany Updates Its Rape Laws

Coming to terms with the Cologne attacks.

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After the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany, the world was rocked by the news that scores of women attending the event had been sexually assaulted and robbed. In addition to the initial assaults, the response to the assaults from local law enforcement and government were so bad that accusations of a cover-up quickly gained traction.

Much of the focus has been on the identities of the attackers, who were described as being of North African or Middle Eastern descent, and the plausible integration of migrants and refugees from war-torn parts of the Muslim world into Western society. What got considerably less attention was that under German law, the attackers couldn’t have been arrested anyway.

As described in a March Buzzfeed article, victims must prove they’ve been assaulted by their level of resistance—a simple “no” isn’t good enough. According to the report, “That’s because, as far as the law is concerned, verbal consent isn’t really the issue. The law focuses instead on the overwhelming force of the perpetrator, requiring that there be a ‘threat of imminent danger to life and limb.’ For a court to rule that a woman was raped, and the justice system to put a rapist behind bars, a woman must physically, exhaustively resist her perpetrator. If she can’t prove with her body—with bruises or other injuries—that she fought back, the assault isn’t really a crime.”

In the months since the New Year’s Eve attacks, Cologne’s chief of police was forced to resign, and activists have pressed the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, to update their antiquated laws. Last week, they proved successful. According to the BBC, “The new law classifies groping as a sex crime and makes it easier to prosecute assaults committed by large group. It also makes it easier to deport migrants who commit sex offences.” In addition to prosecutorial changes, verbal challenges to assault will also be counted equally to physical challenges. Minister for Women Manuela Schwesig sounded optimistic that these changes would lead to more criminals held accountable for their crimes, in addition to more victims feeling safe about reporting violations to law enforcement.

While local activists are still pushing for stronger laws to protect victims of sexual violence, it’s good to see Germany taking these steps. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opening the doors to refugees has been fraught with controversy, but the aim was to make Germany a leader in protecting human rights. The mistake was in overlooking the lack of existing human rights protections for German citizens.

  • I wonder what laws they can make to deal with a culture that produces a thousand males to gather for the purpose of rampant sexual assault of females, whether it's in Cologne or at a music festival in Sweden or all the other places. This new law is a little Band-Aid that will have little effect on the problem of viewing women who are not properly covered as "looking for it," but when you can't even recognize the problem, no solutions are possible. When you have to use cartoons to explain that you can't grab a woman's butt in public pool, it's time for people to realize how inept their government is at protecting its citizens.

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  • Do you think assaulting women in public is unique to those from the Middle East? It isn't. There were mass assaults on women during the Occupy demonstrations, Woodstock 99, and sexual violence is a problem at festivals throughout the world. What I will acknowledge as unique is the way things like what happened in Cologne premeditated and orchestrated like Mafia hits--it reminds of what we saw in Cairo during the Arab Spring. This does happen to women stuck in gang-infested communities in the US. There is still more information coming out about the Cologne incident, and as more is learned, I'm optimistic that there will be policy changes to hold perpetrators accountable. I don't agree with your assertion that this is a Band-Aid solution; the law was changed (it's now more like US law) and arrests are being made. There has been some research showing that when men who assault women are held accountable, it sends a signal to the general population that this sort of behavior is unacceptable. So it's necessary for the laws to not only be solid, but also for justice to follow through. I like Norway's solution of educating immigrants on local laws and customs upon arrival. If there's one thing I think we might agree on, it's this: if we're going to allow this migration into the West, then it is necessary to demand that newcomers learn to obey local law.

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  • Yes, I think a thousand immigrants gathering for a sexual assault in a country kind enough (if that's the correct word) to have recently taken them to save their lives is unique. That's how much they care about the people who gave them shelter when none of their fellow Muslim nations would lift a finger to help them.

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  • Interesting that you think that, from Norway's POV, not sexually assaulting women is a local law or custom. You're pretty much making my case for me.

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