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Europe urged to scrap ‘outdated, harmful’ rape laws

Updated November 25, 2018


Marseille (France): Demonstrators attend a rally against gender-based and sexual violence against women on Saturday.—Reuters
Marseille (France): Demonstrators attend a rally against gender-based and sexual violence against women on Saturday.—Reuters

LONDON: European cou­­ntries must overhaul “outdated” laws that let rapists off the hook and perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming, rights groups said on Saturday.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

Blus said rape survivors across Europe were often failed by “outdated and harmful” laws.

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

“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 defence lawyer in a rape trial said a teenager’s thong could suggest she agreed to sex.—Thomson Reuters Foundation

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2018