German Plan to Criminalize Teen Sex Put on Back Burner | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.12.2007
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German Plan to Criminalize Teen Sex Put on Back Burner

After facing fierce criticism, a proposal in Germany to criminalize teenage sexual activity was deferred. Opponents said the law, which would have lowered the age limit for prosecuting sex offenses, went overboard.

A young couple

The government wants to rethink stiffening teen sex laws

The German government was considering a plan to lower the age at which a person can be charged for perceived sexual crimes from 18 to 14 years of age, but the bill was halted on Wednesday, Dec. 12, a day before it was expected to be approved by parliament.

A decision on the draft, which was intended to protect youths from sexual exploitation and pornographic representation, has been postponed until early next year, a spokesman from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) told the DPA news agency.

"The valid warnings from the opposition and assessors have apparently had an effect," said Jörg van Essen, parliamentary leader of the Free Democratic Party.

Critics warned that the proposal would lead to a criminalization of normal sexual activity among teens and could disturb their natural sexual development.

Examples of punishable situations caused concern

A young couple enjoy a dinner together

"I want to assure you there is no obligation to have sex"

While the proposal spoke of punishment for minors who engage in sexual activity with an under-16-year-old that is "exploitative" or results in "reimbursement" in some form, heavy critique came when specific scenarios were brought up.

For example, if a 17-year-old invites a person of the opposite sex who is 16 or younger to the movies with the perceived intention of "making out" at some point during the evening, then the 17-year-old could be in deep trouble.

This situation could be construed as the older person initiating a financial exchange by picking up the tab while planning a sexual encounter with a minor as a consequence, even if there is no sexual contact between the couple.

However, Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries rebutted criticism from the opposition, saying that the sidelined bill would not criminalize consensual sexual contact between teens.

"No young person has to fear being punished when he invites a date to the movie theater and petting occurs," said Zypries.

Those opposing the bill have said there is no clarification in the actual text to clearly draw the line between what would and would not be punishable by law.

Pornography regulations central to proposal

A young Ukrainian couple shares a kiss in Ukraine's capital Kiev

That's far enough

The new law also foresaw an expansion of the definition of child pornography to include text and images that portrayed sexual actions between teenagers. This could even include photos of teenage girls in bikinis if the pose they strike is deemed "provocative" or the covered genital area is "prominent."

The criticism from sexologists and other experts was echoed by a number of German politicians. Jerzy Montag of the opposition Green party told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that the law would send the "wrong signal" and that "changing the law to make it possible for the victim to be older than the culprit ignores the structure of power and experience."

Germany's current laws differentiate between child and youth pornography.

A law born from EU and US justice systems

Germany finds itself, like all EU member states, under pressure from the European Union, which requires new legislative action in the area of sexual criminal law in line with the United Nations' convention for children's rights.

But the proposed law appeared to go further than even the EU had demanded by making youths as young as 14 punishable as adults and by simultaneously raising the protected age from 16 to 18.

The EU law is primarily intended to protect minors from being forced into prostitution by illegalizing paid sex with a 16- or 17-year-old. Prostitution is currently legal in Germany at 16 years or older.

A young couple shop for fruit

Shopping for fruit in view of witnesses would be allowed

European experts had called the German proposal the action of a government "hostile to sex and hostile to teenagers," while the German Society for Sexual Research called the plan "sexual colonization," referring to the roots of the law in the US legal system.

In the United States, teenagers have already been punished under similar laws. A 15-year-old girl who sent naked pictures of herself to a friend over the Internet was recently charged with the spreading and ownership of child pornography. This would also become an issue in under the German proposal.

At the moment, the ownership and spreading of sexual material involving youngsters is only prohibited when the material involves "sodomy or sadistic pornography."

The SPD spokesman said that the question of whether it should be legal for third parties to possess sexual pictures of youths, if the youths willingly produced them, would need to be clarified before the draft could be resubmitted.

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