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Germany Passes ‘No Means No’ Law After Cologne Attacks

New York Times: German lawmakers unanimously approved legislation on Thursday that would make it easier to prosecute suspects of sexual violence and that defines rape as the violation of a woman’s will under the principle of “no means no.”

International women’s rights groups have long bemoaned the lack of effective legislation to protect women against sexual violence in Germany, and the strict requirements for filing criminal complaints for sexual violence here mean that few cases are reported and even fewer are prosecuted.

The measure, which brings Germany closer to other Western countries in legislation on sexual crimes, makes it possible to prosecute cases in which victims made clear that they had not wanted to engage in sexual activity, even if they did not cry out or otherwise seek help.

It also includes language that considers situations in which men take advantage of crowded situations to initiate inappropriate contact, a provision added after reports of widespread sexual assault in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

“Finally! After a long fight,” Renate Künast, a lawmaker for the opposition Greens party, wrote on Twitter after all 601 lawmakers present in Germany’s lower house of Parliament voted in favor of the measure. It will now be sent to the upper house of Parliament, where it is expected to pass.

Women’s rights groups and opposition lawmakers in Germany have been pushing for two years for legislation that would codify the principle of “no means no,” a significantly tougher stance for the country, the only one in Western Europe that lacks clear legislation against groping.

Efforts to pass the legislation took on new urgency in the months after a series of assaults in Cologne by dozens of men who, the authorities said, included recently arrived asylum seekers and other immigrants.

Hundreds of complaints of sexual violence were filed with the police after the Dec. 31 attacks, but many could not be pursued in court because of a lack of evidence.

Current law in Germany requires a victim to prove that the suspect either threatened or actively used violence, or exploited a situation from which the victim could not escape, for instance by trapping them in a room from which they could not leave.

Under that law, the threshold for evidence required to press rape charges is so high that only one in 10 rapes is reported, the Justice Ministry said. Of those cases that do proceed to court, 8 percent lead to a conviction.

Germany, which did not criminalize marital rape until 1997, has one of the worst records in Europe for protecting its women from sexual violence, said Brendan Wynne, a spokesman for Equality Now, an international rights organization that lobbies for better protection for women and girls.

“Germany have been laggards for a long time,” Mr. Wynne said. “This understanding of women and how you treat them, and how you value them, seems to be an issue in Germany. We are sort of waiting for them to catch up.”

BFF, Germany’s federal association of rape crisis and women’s counseling centers welcomed the new legislation as a “paradigm change” in how the country deals with sexual violence. “No longer is coercion the requirement for the prosecution of sexual assault, but the will of the victim,” the association said.

Yet Katja Grieger, managing director of BFF, and others were critical of a clause in the legislation that would make it easier to deport foreigners charged with sexual assault, arguing that such a provision did not belong in a rape law.

After the vote in Parliament, #neinheisstnein, German for “no means no,” topped the list of Twitter trends in Germany, with many welcoming the bill as a significant improvement.

The influx of more than a million migrants into Germany in the past year has been met with a rise in support for far-right, anti-immigrant parties, and a number of posts on Twitter dismissed the new measure as “nonsense.” “We don’t need tougher rape laws, but fewer Muslims and migrants,” one person wrote, under the handle OdmantSuperstar.

Rights groups including Equality Now point to such attitudes as evidence that tougher laws against sexual violence are needed, and say that, over time, they can help support equality between men and women.

Mr. Wynne, the organization’s spokesman, cited as an example how domestic violence, which was much more common in Western societies two or three decades ago than today, is no longer considered socially acceptable.

“We have so many examples, when countries adapt laws, that attitudes will follow,” Mr. Wynne said. “A law is a first step, and over time, it creates the value of a woman as an equal. If that law is not there, it can be difficult for a woman to feel equal in society.”

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