Denmark Becomes Latest Country to Define Rape by Lack of Consent, Rather Than by Violence
Denmark joins 11 other European countries in criminalizing sex without explicit consent. The law was passed by the Danish parliament on Thursday in order to widen the circumstances that define rape. “Now it will be clear, that if both parties do not consent to sex, then it’s rape,” Denmark’s justice minister, Nick Haekkerup, said in a statement.
The direct motivation for the law is Amnesty International’s 2019 report that peeled aside Denmark’s excellent reputation around women’s rights to reveal a pervasive culture of sexual assault, fuelled by a law that only recognized rape if it occurred in a violent context. In a statement, Amnesty International called the new law “a milestone for women’s rights,” despite the fact that it “falls short of being crystal clear in its commentary that passivity cannot be taken to mean consent.”
Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejčinović Burić reminded all member states of their responsibility to conform to the 2011 Istanbul Convention — a treaty that obliges member states to criminalize all non-consensual sexual acts. While 34 member states ratified the treaty, only a few — Sweden, Austria, Greece, Portugal, and now Denmark — have amended their laws to reflect the same.
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These countries’ new consent laws replace older definitions that require the presence of physical violence, threats, or coercion in order to legally prove rape. Overturning these archaic laws is a means to curb the victim-blaming and rape culture that prevent women from seeking justice. “Women’s fear of not being believed is confirmed time and time again, as we see courageous survivors who do seek justice frequently failed by outdated and harmful definitions of rape in law and treated appallingly by justice officials,” Anna Błus, a women’s rights researcher for Amnesty International, told The Independent.
As of now, countries like Spain and the Netherlands have only announced intentions to change their laws, while other countries like France changed their sexual violence legislation without a pivot to consent-based laws, despite requests for the same from citizens and activists.