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Prosecution of sexualised violence (Germany)

Reporting and prosecuting crimes against sexual self-determination, and the rate of conviction

Chapter Thirteen of the German Criminal Code details offences against sexual self-determination. Offences punishable under criminal law include rape and sexual assault or coercion (whether by use of force or threats). A reform in 2016 further clarifies that these are crimes where there is no consent (“No means No”), whereas previously there was a requirement for physical resistance. Rape and sexual assault are to be punished with imprisonment, as detailed in Section  177: “Whosoever coerces another person by force [...] to suffer sexual acts by the offender or a third person on their own person or to engage actively in sexual activity with the offender or a third person, shall be liable to imprisonment of not less than one year.” Further crimes against sexual self-determination include the abuse of children or those “entrusted to [the offender] for upbringing, education or care”.

Conviction only occurs in eight per cent of reported rapes

The consequences of sexualised violence are manifold. As well as physical injuries, survivors of sexualised violence suffer psychological consequences. It is therefore of extreme importance to adopt a trauma-sensitive approach to the documentation and statement-taking in the immediate wake of crimes against sexual self-determination. Survivors of rape often suffer from severe psychosomatic complaints such as depression, sleep disturbances or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Despite the serious consequences of sexualised violence, there is rarely a conviction. In most cases, the evidence was declared to be insufficient for a conviction, or it was the defendant’s word against the accused’s.

Another reason for the low rate of conviction is given in a Press Release from the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony as, among others, a high court judgement from 2006 which is very disadvantageous for the victims. This low conviction rate has drastic consequences, as only a small percentage of all cases of sexualised violence actually being reported. Feelings of shame and the social stigmatisation of victims are also a significant obstacle to the pursuit of justice.