Inside the rape case which changed Germany’s ‘no means no’ laws
Model and actress Gina-Lisa Lohfink was fined £19,000 for accusing two men of raping her
Yesterday a new law was passed in Germany’s parliament clarifying that “no means no” in rape cases, even if a victim did not physically fight back. It passed with a landslide majority and MPs even stood up and cheered the result in the Bundestag. Previously under German law victims were required to physically fight back for an act to constitute rape. Simply saying “no” was not enough to find a defendant guilty, even if the victim wasn’t in a position to physically resist – and there was no definition on what constituted consent.
Many considered the law backward and inadequate, and according to a 2014 study it allowed perpetrators to get away with rape in 107 cases reported to the German association of women’s counselling and rape crisis centres. In every one of those cases, the victim had said no or otherwise requested the perpetrator to stop – and yet, there was either no court conviction, or no charges were filed in the first place. Shockingly, only one in 10 rapes that occur in the country are reported, and of those, only 10 per cent result in a conviction.
While it’s been long pointed out how outdated Germany’s rape laws previously were, one recent case threw it into the spotlight. Gina-Lisa Lohfink is a famous German and actress and model. She’s 29. She’s been crowned a beauty queen, starred on reality TV and in several films. In 2012 was the face of Venus, a fair promoting safer sex. And in January this year, she was fined €24,000 (around £19,000) for “false testimony” after accusing two men of raping her.
Lohfink has appealed the charges – and with good reason. Of the two men who were acquitted of raping her, one was previously convicted for illegally sharing a video online where she appears naked, at times semi or unconscious, shouting “no” or “stop it” several times as he and another man performed sex acts on her. Lohfink’s decision to file charges came directly against Germany’s outdated rape laws. In the video she doesn’t physically fight back, or resist the attack – and so under the previous criminal law, it wasn’t considered rape.
What followed was an ordeal which made the country recoil as Lohfink was forced to face the accused in court. She broke down on the first day of the trial after being called a whore. She told the courtroom how she had met up and slept with one of the men two nights before the events caught on video – before waking up in a flat with no idea where she was. She told how at first they wouldn’t let her go, and how when she was finally allowed to leave she recognised the effects of a date rape drug, having experienced it before. Worse still, the men accused had contacted media outlets trying to sell the video they had shot, and when the outlets refused and they were left without buyers, shared the clip online, where it went viral.
Despite the fact that Lohfink testified the video was what made her realise she had been raped, the prosecutors decided that not only had she not been drugged, but she was lying about the whole thing. Although she has since appealed the decision, the case revealed the problem in the previous German law – it seemed as though it was more concerned with protecting the accused than the victim. Speaking at the time to German magazine Der Spiegel, Lohfink said: “There’s something wrong with our justice system. My impression is that the police and state prosecutors aren’t taking me seriously.”
Her attorney, Burkhard Benecken, agreed. He said: “That Gina has gone from being the victim to the offender is a disastrous signal to every woman out who would one day face the choice of pressing charges [against a rapist] or not,”
“Fewer women are going to end up going to the police for help in the future if there’s a risk that their view of the incident could be turned against them and they could face charges.”
Even Germany’s family minister, Manuela Schwesig, spoke out on the case. She told a German TV show: “When someone says ‘no’, that has to mean ‘no’. When someone says ‘stop it’ that ought to be clear enough for anyone.”
Germany’s new law “no means no” law has been publicly linked to Lohfink’s case, and it’s true that it seems like a massive step forward. Not only will it mean cases where the victim is unable to fight back will now be considered fairly, it also classifies groping as a sex crime, and makes it easier to prosecute on crimes committed by a large group of people. But some campaigners still think it doesn’t go far enough – they point out how there’s still some grey area where victims are unable to even verbally consent, because they’re drugged or unconscious. It’s certainly miles behind rape laws in some American states, like California, where explicit “affirmative verbal consent” is required.
Speaking to the BBC German activist Kristina Lunz said that the legal change wasn’t enough. “Of course it should be ‘Yes means Yes’.”