Rape and sexual coercion
Rape is a particularly serious form of sexual coercion. Sexual coercion is always deemed to have occurred if you are forced either by violence or threat including danger to life or limb, or in an unprotected situation, to carry out sexual acts with the perpetrator. By way of an example, if someone threatens to kill the victim, and she thus allows the perpetrator to fondle her, it is a case of sexual coercion. The same holds true, of course, if the woman affected is violently forced into the acts or is locked into a room for the purpose of the attack. Rape occurs if the abuser then undertakes a particularly humiliating act, and especially if he penetrates into an orifice of the woman.
In Germany, sexual coercion is punishable by at least one year’s imprisonment. Rape is punishable by at least two years’ imprisonment. The sentences can, however, be suspended. Legislation provides for a penalty of at least five years if a weapon or a dangerous tool was used. All the same, courts often rule that the incident was a minor case and thus pass significantly lesser sentences.
Sexual coercion is a criminal offence rendering the accused liable to public prosecution. As soon as the police or prosecution are made aware of the offence, they are obliged to investigate. This also means that a report to the police cannot simply be withdrawn.
Nobody is obliged to report sexual coercion to the police. Victims often feel that criminal proceedings are very stressful for them. They are often interviewed several times and must face very intimate questions. In addition, the lawsuits generally last for a long time, and the offender’s conviction is by no means certain.
In case of sexual coercion perpetrated by an unknown offender, it is particularly important to try and preserve traces as early as possible. This means it is best to keep the clothes worn during the offence, go and see a doctor immediately etc.
In most cases though, sexual coercion takes place in the close personal environment. In that case, it will not be ascertained during the proceedings who the offender was but the question is rather if the victim will be deemed credible. Offenders often declare that the sexual acts did actually take place but they either say that it was on a voluntary basis or that they did not know that the woman had not given her consent.
Since in the vast majority of cases there are no other witnesses apart from the victim and the abuser without any further evidence, the question of whom the court believes is particularly important. The in dubio pro reo principle is applied, i.e. the defendant is given the benefit of doubt. Hence if there is a doubt it will always be to the disadvantage of the witness, never against the defendant.
In the case of a criminal complaint being filed, it is very helpful to be well informed about the further course of the proceedings, one’s own rights in the proceedings, possible measures to protect the victim and court accompaniment support services. Relevant information is provided by specialised counselling centres (e.g. rape crisis centres).
In cases of sexual coercion, each person affected has the right to employ a lawyer for the criminal proceedings. This is largely paid for by the State. Lawyers can support victims in the proceedings right from the onset and may already be present during police questioning.
If desired by the victim, she can become a joint plaintiff in the proceedings, inspect the files, name witnesses and the like.