New German law broadens definition of rape

Germany, A law passed Thursday by Germany’s lower house broadens the definition of rape, removing a requirement that a victim fight back.


The bill comes in the wake of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne and other cities in Germany, when hundreds of women reported they were sexually assaulted by migrant men. Activists complained following the attacks that German laws against rape have lagged behind those of other industrialized nations.

The new definition of rape clarifies that a victim need not fight back against an assailant for the assault to be considered rape, and includes sexual activity that goes against the “discernable will” of the victim. German Justice Minister Heiko Mass said under the current law, victims must show they attempted to defend themselves for an action to qualify as rape.

The new law also classifies groping as a sex crime, simplifies prosecution of group assaults and eases deportation of migrants convicted of sex offenses.

The law was passed by an overwhelming majority of members of the Bundestag.

In the reports of groping of women in Germany on New Year’s Eve, many of the perpetrators were described as Arab or North African in appearance and speaking in languages other than German or English.

The current law’s insufficiency meant many rapists were not tried or convicted, a 2014 study by BFF, a German association of women’s counseling centers, concluded. The study noted too much emphasis was placed on whether a victim resisted an assault. The new law will consider physical and verbal cues to define if a rape occurred, meaning that saying “no” would constitute a lack of consent.

Activists lauded the new law but said it does not go far enough in helping those victims who cannot express a lack of consent, those who have been drugged, for example.