Credit: Freepik

Czech Parliament Approves Update In The Legal Definition of Rape

The Chamber of Deputies has passed a government amendment to to the Penal Code changing the legal definition of rape from forcible to non-consensual sexual intercourse, approved unanimously yesterday by all MPs present for the vote.

The amendment also changes the approach of courts to sexual practices with children younger than 12 years, which will now always be considered as rape or sexual assault.

The amendment still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.

Justice Minister Pavel Blazek (ODS) said that the amendment defines rape based on the rule “no means no”. The victim does not have to express disagreement verbally; a gesture, crying, or taking a defensive position would suffice.

Representatives of the Czech Women’s Lobby (CZL) and other organisations that support victims of crime welcomed the amendment, telling CTK that it would make the situation of victims easier and better.

“This is the culmination of the work of some of the Czech Women’s Lobby organisations and our efforts,” said CZL chairwoman Marta Smolikova. “It turns out that the lower house has understanding for victims, so there should be no problem with ratifying the Istanbul Convention.” She described the rapid approval of the amendment as “absolutely unprecedented and exceptional.”

The bill also takes into account the defencelessness of victims, where they are unable to express or assert their will for some specific reason, such as illness, sleep, mental disorder, heavy drinking, physical restraints, or disability.

The crime of rape will now only include intercourse and other penetrative acts. Other non-consensual sexual acts have been separated by the ministry into a separate new offence of sexual assault.

The use of a weapon will carry a higher penalty for both sexual assault and rape.

It will also now be a criminal offence to fail to prevent sexual coercion, similar to the failure to prevent sexual assault. The offence of sexual coercion has been expanded to include abuse of someone’s distress.

“What has not changed and cannot change is that this criminal activity must also be unequivocally proven in court,” Blazek stressed. He said rape most often happens in homes, so proving it can be difficult.

The rapporteur for the draft amendment, MP Tatana Mala (ANO) said it will improve the position of victims. She called on the Justice Ministry to start an awareness campaign on the change in the definition of rape.

MP Klara Kocmanova (Pirates) described the move as “a big step”.

TOP 09 MP Michal Zuna said he hoped the legal change would also change court practice, which at present sees half of reported rape cases being shelved and a quarter ending in suspended sentences.

Sixteen European countries have moved to change the definition of rape in recent years. Malta, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Slovenia and Croatia apply the concept of “yes means yes”. Latvia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Sweden apply the “no means no” concept. France and Austria still use a definition of rape based on violence or the threat of violence.

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