“If there’s anything we can gain from what happened in Cologne, it’s that we start openly talking about the issue of sexual violence against women, regardless of who the perpetrators are,” said Elke Ferner, the parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth, who signed the #ausnahmslos campaign’s open letter “When you make it a problem involving people from North Africa, of the Muslim faith, you’re making the problem smaller than it actually is.”
The Cologne assaults have exposed what lawyers and feminists say are serious deficits in Germany’s penal code. Sexual assault is criminally punishable in Germany only when the act involves force — in other words, when violence is used or threatened, or when the victim is in a defenseless situation.
This legal definition has perverse effects in practice. Consider the assaults in Cologne, where many women reported they were groped between the legs and under their clothes. Because the perpetrators used the element of surprise and not violence, German courts would likely not consider them to have committed sexual assault. The men (if they are ever identified) would probably only be charged for the theft that accompanied the touching.
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