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'Legally, just saying no is not enough'

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8,000 cases of rape and sexual assault are reported in Germany each year. Photo: DPA
16:01 CET+01:00
As the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women approaches, the last installment of The Local's Sex in Germany series looks at crime. Why does country's definition of rape divide opinion?

The number of reported rapes and incidents of sexual assaults has stayed pretty consistent in Germany for 15 years, with around 8,000 reported each year from 1998 to 2012, according to Interior Ministry figures. In 2012, there were 8,031 reported, an increase of 6.5 percent on the year before.

But, as Katja Grieger from the government-funded Women Against Violence group (BFF) explained, German law defines rape only if the suspect uses physical violence or threatens their victim. “This means that repeated saying no during sex, or even screaming,” is not enough, a report from the organization states.

“This has to change,” Grieger told The Local, adding that she believed it would. While there was initial talk in parliament, no changes have been made despite campaigners pushing for reform to section 177 of the German Criminal Code to make the criteria for rape broader – echoing that of neighbouring European countries.

“Hopefully it will come up under the new coalition government,” she said.

The last in-depth, government-commissioned study into sex crime in Germany was done in 2004 and there have only basic government statistics released since then.

A ruling in a court in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012 left campaigners in shock after a suspect was let off charges that he raped a 15-year-old girl because she “did not defend herself enough,” a statement from the court said. There was no physical proof it was not consensual sex.

But the fact that rape statistics have failed to decline over the past decade is not necessarily a bad thing in Grieger's eyes. “It shows that women are not becoming more scared to report rape,” she said.

She feels that as long as current legislature remains in place, the majority of rape victims will stay quiet. “Studies show just five percent of rapes are reported, so this figure should really be much higher,” she said.

‘The suspects have it easier than the victim’

As it stands in the German legal system, taking a rape case to court is a very lengthy process. “The suspects have it easier,” said Grieger. “We see a lot of mistrust from the authorities towards women who report assault.”

Indeed until 1997, rape inside a marriage was not legally considered rape in Germany.

The BFF are the main association which receives government funding to help female victims of violence and women who have experienced sexual assault – who in 2012 made up 95 percent of all reported cases. But it has three permanent staff for the whole of the country.

For others, opening up the legal classification of rape would be very difficult.

Veit Schiemann, a spokesman at the Weisser Ring group, an independent organization to help victims of crime, said: “How does a woman prove she said no? And how would a man prove that she said yes?”

He argued that broadening the definition of rape would make it harder to convict alleged attackers. “If there is violence used then it leaves a wound, like bruises,” said Schiemann, thus providing concrete evidence of the crime.

Changing the law would, he said, see the number of reported rapes go up but not the number of convicted rapists.

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Rather than campaigning for legal reform, Weisser Ring try to stop sexual assault before it happens.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Monday, the group is teaming up with the German Olympic Sports Confederation to promote self-defence. “Women should learn it,” said Schiemann.

Despite their differing views on the legislation, both Schiemann and Grieger agreed that talking about rape was a taboo in Germany.

“Sexual abuse has become more spoken about over recent years and we need the same attitude towards rape,” Schiemann said.

A starting point could be, said both Schiemann and Grieger, better training for police. “At this point not enough police are trained to deal with traumatized rape victims,” said Grieger. Government money is going into this, she said, but it is “just not enough.”

READ MORE: 'People talk about, not to prostitutes'

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