Germany Passes New Anti-Rape Legislation To Protect Victims

Germany's new law aims to protect, but there is suspicion regarding its timing and language. Is the law intending to make refugees the scapegoats?

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Sexual assault laws in Germany were lagging woefully behind, but last week, Chancellor Merkel’s cabinet finally passed landmark “no means no” legislation. This history of lagging laws and activists’ fight to bring them up to speed means that it wasn’t until 1997 that the definition of rape in Germany was broadened in its criminal codes to include marital rape.

Even after that, “the threat of present danger to life or limb” was required for a rape case to qualify. This presents a lack of regard for cases of verbal coercion, manipulation, or intoxication/unconsciousness. If a person doesn’t physically fight back, (often requiring bruises or other physical injury as evidence”) it isn’t legally considered rape in Germany. Until now.

Last New Year’s Eve, the government was incited to act when over 1,200 reports of sexual assault of women were made in that single day, mainly in the city of Cologne. The bill was passed on July 7, and was met with near-universal appreciation for the “no means no” refrain. However, there is one concern amidst all the celebration, and it must be sensitively addressed. The majority of the crimes that happened on New Year’s Eve were committed by “refugees and migrants,” reports The Straits Times.

One of the stipulations of the new anti-rape law is that it will now be easier to deport migrants who are accused of these acts, and some worry that the anti-rape law will be used to nefariously discriminate against foreigners, instead of for the law’s intended purpose: protecting victims.

A part of the law stating that it will be “illegal to be part of a group that commits assaults in a crowd,” exacerbates this worry, says Time magazine. This ambiguous language and use of the word “group” raise red flags about xenophobia. What exactly does it mean to be “part of a group,” and what exactly is the purpose behind this addendum?

The anti-rape law is a very significant and promising milestone for Germany, but it is also important that the law is enforced fairly and equitably, instead of inciting prejudice against refugees. The ruling should empower and uplift victims — without creating new ones.

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