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‘Legally, just saying no is not enough’

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?

'Legally, just saying no is not enough'
8,000 cases of rape and sexual assault are reported in Germany each year. Photo: DPA

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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.

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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ANTI-SEMITISM

Police deployed at German synagogue after bullet holes found

German police staged a major deployment at a synagogue in the western city of Essen on Friday after several bullet holes were found in the adjacent former rabbi's residence.

Police deployed at German synagogue after bullet holes found

Police said “four shots were fired from a loaded weapon” into the exterior of the home next to the city’s Old Synagogue but that no one was injured.

Officers were inspecting the site with sniffer dogs for any explosives.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said he was “shocked by this latest attack on Jewish life in Germany”.

“Anti-Semitism must have no place. It is our duty to protect Jewish life,” he tweeted.

Media reports said the shots were fired overnight and reported on Friday morning. They targeted a glass door at the entryway of the residence and two bullets pierced the glass.

State interior minister Herbert Reul told local media that the alleged assailant, a man, had been captured on a security camera but was still at large.

The incident came three years after a gunman killed two people in the eastern city of Halle after failing to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur.

Before the attack, he had posted a racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic manifesto online.

Germany in May reported a new record in the number of politically motivated crimes last year, including a nearly 29-percent jump in anti-Semitic crimes to 3,027.

Seven decades after the Holocaust in which the Nazi regime slaughtered six million Jews, the vast majority of the offences — 2,552 — were attributed to the far-right scene.

Essen’s Old Synagogue was built in the early 20th century but its interior was largely destroyed by the Nazis in the November 1938 pogrom.

It underwent a thorough restoration and reopened as an expanded Jewish Culture House for interfaith dialogue in 2010.

READ ALSO: ‘We will fight for our Germany’: Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right

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