Critics Call Draft Amendments 'Silly' Germany Shelves Tougher Sex Crime Legislation

The German parliament has shelved a vote on imposing stricter sex crime legislation following fierce criticism from legal experts and opposition members who said the changes could criminalize ordinary sexual activity between teenagers.


Legal experts say the proposed legal amendments could criminalize ordinary sexual behavior between teenagers.
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Legal experts say the proposed legal amendments could criminalize ordinary sexual behavior between teenagers.

A German parliamentary vote on tougher sex crime legislation set for Thursday has been postponed following a storm of criticism from legal experts and it is unclear when the draft legislation might be re-introduced to parliament. The planned amendments are in accordance with new EU guidelines for prosecuting sex crimes.

German legal experts and members of the opposition liberal Free Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party aren't just concerned about the changes themselves, but about the way in which they are to be implemented. The German Society for Sexual Research is complaining about "moral colonization" because the new European definition of child pornography matches the US Criminal Code word for word.

Experts cited the case of a 15-year-old girl from Pittsburgh in the US state of Pennsylvania who was arrested after she took pictures of herself in the nude and emailed them to people she had got to know in Internet chat rooms.

Police interpreted her poses as "sexual activity", confiscated the computer and accused her of sexual abuse of minors, owning child pornography and distributing child pornography. The same could happen in Germany if the government's planned amendments to the criminal code -- which go even further than the EU requires -- become law, experts warn.

Under current law "sexual abuse of minors" is deemed to have occurred if the perpetrator is at least 18 and the victim is under 16, an age gap of at least two years. But according to the new EU guidelines, someone faces prosecution if they "abuse" a 16 or 17-year-old.

According to the wording of the German legal amendment, that would be the case if a high school student invites a girl to the cinema in the hope that she will engage in sexual activity with him. Stroking her breasts could constitute a criminal offence because the cinema ticket would constitute a form of payment.

Germany campaigned unsuccessfully for the age of the victim to be taken into account in the EU guidelines. According to the draft amendment, people aged 14 to 17 can be held just as accountable as adults.

The case of German teenager Marco Weiss shows how quickly awkward flirtation can lead to a legal drama. Weiss, a 17-year-old, has been held in Turkey for the last seven months due to what he has described as an innocent flirtation with a 13-year-old British girl. The girl claims that Weiss molested her. Sexual contact with a 13 year old in Germany has always been punishable, but the new law would up the stakes for any sort of experimentation between teenagers.

In effect, as one expert on sex crime put it, under the new legislation young people will effectively be classified as children in the eyes of the law if they are victims and as adults if they are perpetrators.

Germany's opposition parties have protested against the law. Jörg van Essen of the liberal Free Democrats said that rather than protect young people the law will "massively inhibit the process of sexual self-realization." Wolfgang Neskovic of the Left Party, deputy chairman of the justice committee in the lower house of parliament, called the amendment "silly" and said it was criminalizing "what has hitherto been legal courting behavior among teenagers."

Even sex education articles in youth magazines such as Bravo, sometimes illustrated with teenagers in various states of undress, could face prosecution in future. The German government's amendment even plans to apply the same sentencing regardless of whether the victims are under-18s or under-14s.

Sexual experts say the legislation is superfluous and damaging. New prosecution rules covering sexual abuse and pornography are likely to unleash a "wave of useless investigations and court cases," says Hamburg-based sexual medical expert Andreas Hill, adding that police will lose sight of the really serious cases.

Opposition politicians are calling on Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries to use all the legal loopholes and exceptions that the EU guidelines permit. In the case of youth pornography, for example, the Greens and Left Party only want illustrations that degrade people as objects to be deemed criminal.

Some legal experts doubt whether the EU guidelines are even valid given that in field of criminal law, the EU's area of responsibility only covers organized crime, terrorism and drug dealing.

With reporting by Dietmar Hipp

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