Switzerland changes law after arguing over what non-consensual sex is

Switzerland changes law after arguing over what non-consensual sex is

Switzerland is amending its law on sexual violence to legally recognise that sex without consent is rape. 

Up until now the country only defined rape as forced sex involving violence, threats or psychological pressure. This meant that unless a woman tried to defend herself the attacker would be charged with sexual harassment instead of rape – irrespective of whether penetration had taken place. It did not take into account shock, which can paralyse the victim and prevent them from resisting the attack. 

Politicians had been split between those arguing for a “no means no” approach, where rape cases are only brought if a person explicitly objects and the proposed “yes means yes” revision, which recognises all non-consensual sex as rape. 

It took several rounds of voting between the two chambers of Switzerland’s parliament until a third definition was agreed: the “no means no” approach along with explicit wording that takes into account a victim’s state of shock. It was voted through by 118 votes to 65. 

A historic reform to a “Medieval” law

Raphaël Mahaim of the Green Party had been among those leading calls for the legal revision. Writing on Twitter following the vote, he said: “We really come out of the Middle Ages because the definition of rape was medieval. We now have a much more modern definition of rape, which incorporates notions of consent in the sexual relationship. This is a historic reform!”

The amendment will be formally voted in on June 16. It follows similar rulings in Denmark and Spain, where the law was recently changed to define rape as sexual assault without explicit consent.

Cyrielle Huguenot, Amnesty International’s Head of Women’s Rights in Switzerland, has called the decision a “historic victory, not just for those campaigners who have worked tirelessly to see this day, but for all survivors of sexual violence in Switzerland.”

All sex without consent is rape

The new law also recognises that men can be victims of rape. Huguenot added, “The amendment, which will be formally voted in Parliament on 16 June, marks the end to the outdated definition of rape that required the use of physical force, threat or coercion, and considered only women as victims. The law now recognizes that all sex without consent is rape.

“While there is still a great distance to travel, today’s vote is an important step along the road to combatting widespread sexual violence in Switzerland and improving access to justice for survivors.

“Although the new law will help to shift attitudes, more is needed to effect institutional and social change. Parliament must now act to ensure that training and awareness-raising for police and prosecution authorities and assistance to survivors strengthened. Consent must also be placed at the centre of sex education, detailed public statistics on sexual violence must be made available, and effective information and prevention campaigns must be launched.”

Featured image: Photo by Olia Danilevich


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