Sexual Violence against Women in Germany

Written by  Lisa Hallmann Sunday, 24 April 2016 13:12

Sexual violence is no rarity in Germany, it is even more widespread than most people think. About one third of women in Germany have ever experienced sexual abuse at least once in their lives. This represents the average of the number of cases of sexual abuse in the European Union. If sexual harassment is added to this number almost every woman is concerned. Unfortunately the number of cases of sexual violence in Germany increases continuously. But still there is a high estimated number of unreported cases that is rated more than twice as much as the reported cases because women do not dare to talk about the experienced violence. Another fact that affects the high dark figure is that the majority of cases of sexual violence do not occur in the public but in the domestic sphere. Perpetrators are mostly friends or even the own husband. In such cases women feel especially ashamed because they think it is their own fault. In addition some women are financially or psychologically dependent on the perpetrator, are manipulated or threatened. According to Amnesty International violence is the greatest health hazard for women and children.

Sexual violence is defined as sexual contact of any kind that violates a person’s will. This includes sexual harassment, sexual abuse, rape or human trafficking. Indeed every person can become the victim of sexual violence but the major victims are girls and women. Sexual violence is – irrespective of culture and lifestyle – always an instrument to demonstrate power relations. Rape is an extreme form of sexual violence in which sexuality is used as a medium for the demonstration of power relations, humiliation and repression of girls and women. Rape is defined as any penetration into the body of another person that is forced by violence or threat. For every girl and woman sexual violence means a massive violation of her personality and physical integrity.

As the issue of violence against women was tabooed for a long time many affected women still feel helpless. Shame and anxiety are only two factors that inhibits them to claim their rights or to search for help. 40% of the women in Germany experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 16. 25% of the women living in Germany experienced violence by their current or former partner. Violence against women is primarily committed by the partner or ex-partner in the domestic sphere. Violence often marks a break with the familiar life relations as breakup, change of domicile and quit of the workplace. 47% of the women who experienced sexual violence do not talk with anybody about it. This percentage is even higher if the perpetrator is the partner or ex-partner. If they talk about their violent experience they mostly share it with persons of their direct social surroundings.

Sexual violence always means a massive violation of integrity which can lead to a long-term traumatization. Women affected by rape are stood in a psychological state that is similar to a shock which often lasts for several days. They feel estranged from their surroundings and themselves which causes the feeling that their former life does not exist any more. It is a time of disorientation in which women try to get the control of their lives back. Victims of rape are often irritable and full of conflicting feelings. Their self-esteem, dignity, sexuality and perception of self can be deranged for a long time. Many victims react with shame and disgust towards themselves or torture themselves with feelings of guilt and self-reproaches. There are various psychological symptoms as anxiety states, insomnia, nightmares, anancasms, depression, suicidal tendency, eating disorders, sexual problems, substance abuse and flashbacks. Furthermore these psychological problems lead to physical diseases and social problems as separation or divorce, impairment of children, isolation from friends, inability to work or unemployment and change of domicile. Many women try to handle the experience of sexual violence on their own which is very difficult without any support. Victims often need years until they dare to ask for help. There are qualified and specialized institutions for women offering assistance and support.

The current sexual crime legislation in Germany leaves gaps open that is account of victims. The facts of rape have been described too narrowly namely that it is only considered rape when penetrating the victim’s body on three conditions; by forcing violently, by threatening the victim’s life or by abusing the victim’s unprotected situation. If these presuppositions are not given it is no statutory offense – even if the act is against the victim’s will. Sexual assault is gated at least one year imprisonment, rape is gated at least two years imprisonment. However, these penalties can be placed on probation. If a gun or dangerous tool was used the penalty consists of at least five years imprisonment. Sexual assault is an offense that must be prosecuted ex officio which means that as soon as the police gets to know about it, it is bound to investigate. Hence a complaint cannot be retracted.

We now have the opportunity to take it up again to finally discuss how sexism and sexual violence interact and what we – as the society – can do against it. These problems have to be recognized as an issue of society as a whole to restart the discourse. By introducing gender-sensitive pedagogy and strengthening structures supporting victims of sexual violence we can make sure that there is no breeding ground for discrimination and violence.

References:

www.focus.de

www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de

www.zeit.de

www.ijm-deutschland.de

www.waz.de

www.frauenrechte.de

 

About Writer: Lisa Hallmann is student of Ethnology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany

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