World

Rights groups urge European countries to scrap ‘outdated, harmful’ rape laws

by Emma Batha

Thomson Reuters Foundation

European countries must overhaul “outdated” laws that let rapists off the hook and perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming, rights groups said Saturday.

Only eight out of 31 countries surveyed by Amnesty International define rape as sex without consent, according to research published on the eve of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The rest have legal definitions of rape based on force, threat of force, coercion or the victim’s inability to defend themselves.

“Time and again, surveys show that many people still believe it’s not rape when the victim is drunk, wearing revealing clothes or not physically fighting back,” said lead researcher Anna Blus.

“Sex without consent is rape, full stop. Until governments bring their legislations in line with this simple fact, the perpetrators of rape will continue to get away with their crimes.”

The survey covered the 28 EU countries plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights suggests one in 20 women has been raped.

But rights groups say rape remains hugely under-reported in Europe, despite movements like #MeToo which have spurred women to speak out about sexual violence.

The countries which define rape as sex without consent are Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Women in Denmark are planning protests this weekend calling for similar reforms.

Blus said rape survivors across Europe are often failed by “outdated and harmful” laws.

Some countries, including Croatia and Spain, categorize sex without consent as a lesser offense, sending a message that “real rape” must involve physical violence, she said.

Spain is planning a new rape law following a public outcry this year when five men were cleared of gang-raping a teenager during the bull-running festival in Pamplona.

The men were convicted of a lesser crime, partly because the victim reportedly remained silent during the attack.

“Rape is a crime of violence, and you shouldn’t have to prove additional violence to show rape,” said Jacqui Hunt, Europe director of rights group Equality Now.

“I think women are really angry that justice is not being done, and not being seen to be done, in so many countries — and it seems to be harder and harder to even bring a case.”

She said women who sought justice were often made to feel they were to blame.

In Ireland women have been posting pictures of their underwear with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent after a defense lawyer in a rape trial said a teenager’s thong could suggest she agreed to have sex.