1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Germany broadens legal definition of rape

July 7, 2016

Germany's lower house has passed legislation that broadens the legal definition of rape. The move no longer requires that victims physically resist sexual assault in order to pursue rape charges against their assailants.

A woman at a protest in support of broadening Germany's definition of rape
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen

On Thursday, German lawmakers unanimously passed legislation for "improving the protection of sexual self-determination" that makes it easier for victims of sexual assault to file criminal complaints.

The law closes "blatant loopholes" in Germany's rape laws by widening the definition of rape to include sexual activity that goes against the "discernible will" of the victim, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday.

If "a defenseless state is used to commit sexual attacks, the culprits can be punished for that accordingly in the future," Maas said before the vote.

"When perpetrators cannot be punished, it is a second bitter humiliation for the victims," Maas said.

Previous legislation stipulated that rape could only be punishable if the victim showed physical signs of resisting the assailant.

"It is crucial that we finally embed the principle of 'no means no' in criminal law and make every nonconsensual sexual act a punishable offense," Social Democratic Party lawmaker Eva Högl said ahead of the parliamentary vote.

In March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved the measure following hundreds of reports of sexual violence committed by men of apparent foreign backgrounds on New Year's Eve in Cologne.

Under the new legislation, individuals involved in a group carrying out acts of sexual violence are liable to face criminal charges, even if they did not commit the acts themselves.

According to Germany's DPA news agency, some 8,000 rapes are reported annually. However, only 8 percent of court trials concerning rape result in a convictions, said Germany's justice minister.

ls/sms (AP, dpa)