No Prison for Dating: Teen Sex Won't Be Criminalized in Germany

Germany's grand coalition government has watered down sex crime legislation following fierce criticism that its original plans would punish teen sex rather than protect young people. The new law would still punish adults for abusing minors.

A teenage couple doing what comes naturally.
CORBIS

A teenage couple doing what comes naturally.

Germany's ruling grand coalition government has finally come up with a fresh proposal that waters down legislation intended to prevent teenagers from sexual abuse and exploitation. When the government first presented its draft legislation last December it caused uproar. The opposition argued that far from protecting teenagers it could be used to crack down on healthy sexual experimentation.

According to the spokesperson on legal affairs for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), the new draft law will not criminalize normal sexual contact between teenagers. Jürgen Gehb told the Neue Osnabrücke Zeitung on Tuesday that legal experts in both his party and its junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), had finally reached an agreement on tightening up the legislation. He said Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, a Social Democrat, will present the revised draft to the parliamentary legal affairs committee in June.

The original plans had envisaged making it a crime for teenagers, aged between 14 and 17 years, to offer money or something else of value in order to obtain sex from another minor. Critics complained that the legislation could conceivably have made inviting someone to a party or to a movie into a criminal offense if it ended in sexual contact.

Under the current law the sexual abuse of minors is only deemed to have occurred if the perpetrator is over 18 and the victim is under 16, but new European Union guidelines now seek to protect those aged 16 and 17. According to Gehb, the new German legislation will maintain the age limit of 18 and a teenager would only be prosecuted if he or she purchased sex from an underaged youth.

The new legislation will also differentiate between child pornography and that featuring teenagers. While the sentence for the possession or distribution of child pornography can be up to five years, when it comes to images of those aged between 14 and 17 the punishment will be much lighter: a maximum of three years or a fine. And the law will not punish teenagers who possess images of other teenagers, for example a 17-year-old girl who has a naked photograph of her 17-year-old boyfriend on her mobile phone.

A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the coalition had discussed the new legislation. He said there had been little room for maneuver as the current law was being amended to bring it into line with the new EU guidelines. The spokesperson said that it had never been the intention of the government to criminalize intimacy between teenagers. The aim had been to prevent young people from falling into prostitution.

The opposition reacted positively to the news. Jörg van Essen of the liberal Free Democratic Party said that the original plans to change the age limit for sexual abuse had been "completely incomprehensible." And he said the different penalties for child and teen pornography represented a "step in the right direction." According to Essen, the draft legislation would only be acceptable if it provided a balance between "sexual self-realization and the protection of young people from sexual abuse."

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