In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, and in the face of criticism from women’s rights campaigners, German legislators amended the country’s sexual assault laws on Thursday so that women who vocally tell an attacker “no” can more easily file criminal complaints. Previously under German law, victims had been required to demonstrate they had physically resisted an attack before being able to file charges for crimes such as rape or sexual assault. “In the past, there were cases where women were raped but the perpetrators couldn’t be punished,” explained German Minister for Women Manuela Schwesig. “The change in the law will help increase the number of victims who choose to press charges, lower the number of criminal prosecutions that are shelved and ensure sexual assaults are properly punished.”
Only one in 10 rapes are reported in Germany, and only eight percent of rape trials end in convictions, according to German justice minister Heiko Mass. Conservative lawmakers had nonetheless resisted amending sexual assault laws — at least until the New Year’s attacks reignited discussion about sexual violence in the country. The first convictions in relation to the attacks were handed out on Thursday, when two men involved in the attacks were each handed a one-year suspended sentence. In addition to giving verbal nonconsent increased legal force, the new law would make it easier to deport foreign perpetrators of sexual assault. The law will also allow courts to take into account that victims may not have physically resisted an attack due to incapacitation, surprise, or fear of greater violence.
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