The new legislation on sexual offences has now come into force. What does it mean for victims of sexual violence?

The new legislation on sexual offences 

major improvements in the protection of sexual self-determination. Under this law sexual assault is now already a criminal offence if it is committed against a person’s unambiguous will. It no longer matters whether the person in question has tried to physically resist or why she/he has failed do so. The new law means that the Istanbul Convention’s call for all sexual acts committed without consent to be classified as criminal offences is at last being implemented in Germany.

Groping now illegal

The law also introduces a new category of offence: sexual harassment. Under the law, abuses previously deemed insignificant are now classified as criminal offences. Time and again, women and girls have been touched, groped and grossly sexually hararassed in public places. The law now allows them to report such offences, either immediately or at a later point in time. The police are obliged to record such reports and to investigate them.

Women with disabilities

The reform also abolishes the law’s unequal treatment of persons with disabilities. Women with disabilities experience sexual assault more often than women without disabilities. These acts of violence are often perpetrated by a person known to the victim. The perpetrator thinks he can get away with it because the victim may be less able to resist and because she is in some cases not capable of communicating with others. Until now, sexual assault of persons “unable to resist” carried less stringent penalties. The new law provides for harsher penalties for abuses of this kind against women with disabilities. We expect these offences to be more rigorously pursued in the future and women with disabilities to be taken seriously. 


No victim of sexual violence is responsible for the crimes committed against her. A perpetrator can no longer excuse his behaviour by saying that he did not know whether the victim consented because she did not resist. If the police/public prosecutor receive reports of such cases they must investigate them and press charges where appropriate. The new legislation means that reporting sexual assault is much more likely to lead to prosecution than in the past. Ongoing investigations of sexual assault can no longer be suspended simply because of a loophole in the law on sexual offences.