Dhe European Parliament and the Council agreed on Tuesday evening after lengthy negotiations on a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. For the first time, it defines common offenses that the member states must regulate in their national criminal law. This applies to genital mutilation, forced marriage, the sharing of intimate images without consent as well as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and incitement to hatred or violence on the Internet. The crime of rape was not included because there was no majority for it in the council.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

The agreement sends a message “that we take violence against women seriously,” said parliamentary negotiator Frances Fitzgerald. At the same time, the Irish Christian Democrat expressed her “great disappointment” that it had not been possible to regulate rape. 13 of the 27 member states have agreed to the definition of non-consensual sexual intercourse proposed by the EU Commission. During the negotiations, “we got some pretty disturbing insights into attitudes towards rape in the member states,” said Fitzgerald.

Uniform penalty framework for rape can be challenged

Parliament and the Commission had argued that rape was covered by the offense of sexual exploitation of women, which is one of the crimes for which the European Union is allowed to impose a uniform criminal framework. However, a council report warned of “significant risks” of a challenge if this route were taken. The asymmetrical power structures typical of sexual exploitation cannot be transferred to private relationships, in which rape usually occurs. The federal government also agreed with this position.

While the principle “No means no” has been anchored in German law since 2016, other states also rejected a European law regulation because it would have forced legal changes for them. In 14 Member States, rape victims must prove that they have been threatened with violence or that violence has been used against them, including France.

Increased expansion of reporting points for acts of violence

The now agreed directive also defines circumstances that aggravate punishment, such as violence against a child, repeated and excessive violence. Member States must create hotlines and easily accessible reporting points for victims of domestic violence; Online crimes should also be reported online. Authorities must assess the risk posed by a possible violent perpetrator and take appropriate protective measures. Member States commit to raising awareness about rape and working towards a culture where only consensual sex is tolerated. The MPs were able to wrest this concession from the Council in the final round of negotiations.

After the law comes into force, states have three years to implement the requirements in their national law. The directive is to be evaluated by the EU Commission after five years.