Let's talk about yes!
Rape is rampant in Europe. That's why we need to talk about consent.
Sex without consent is rape. It’s as simple as that. Or, at least it should be.
In reality though, rape is not defined as sex without consent in many European countries. Only 8 countries in Europe have laws that state it is rape to have sex with someone without their consent.
At the same time, the prevalence of rape is staggering. Figures from a European Union (EU) wide survey show that:
- 1 in 20 women in the EU have been raped after the age of 15. That is around 9 million women.
- 1 in 10 women in the EU have experienced some form of sexual violence after the age of 15.
Did you know that your government is obliged to protect you from rape? Having laws in place that state that sex without consent is rape would make it crystal clear that you, and only you, have the right to decide about your own body.
What is consent to sex?
Consent is everything when it comes to sex. When talking about consent a variety of questions arise, even though the concept of consent is quite straightforward:
To have sex, you need to know that the person you wish to have sex with wants to have sex with you too.
Some ask if they must sign a contract to have sex. The answer is no. They must simply communicate with their partner and make sure all sexual activities they engage in happen with mutual consent.
Sexual consent must be a voluntary and free choice for all parties involved. Being silent or not saying no is NOT the same as giving consent.
A general rule is: If in doubt, ask. If you’re still in doubt, stop.
It is not embarrassing to ask, and you should not proceed unless the other person consents. If a person is asleep or unconscious, that person is not able to respond, which means they cannot consent to any kind of sexual activity.
The now famous tea-video from explains what consent is very well.
Sex without consent is rape... but this is not reflected in the law in many European countries
Amnesty has analysed rape legislation in 31 countries in Europe. We found that only 8 out of 31 countries have consent-based legislation in place.
Things are moving in the right direction, mainly due to brave women fighting for their governments to guarantee their right to sexual autonomy and keep them safe from rape. In 2018, Iceland and Sweden became the 7th and 8th country in Europe to adopt legislation defining rape on the basis of lack of consent.
The other countries are the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Germany, Cyprus and Belgium.
In the other European countries, for the crime to be considered rape, the law requires for example the use of force or threats, but this is not what happens in a great majority of rape cases. As a result, women survivors of rape risk receiving no justice, leading to a lack of trust in the legal system. Therefore, fewer women choose to report sexual violence to the police, and the perpetrators walk free.
Rape is underreported in Europe
Rape is a form of sexual violence and can have a profound emotional, physical and psychological impact on the victim. Everyone, regardless of gender identity, can be a victim of rape. However, it is a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls.
Despite the seriousness of the violation, rape remains hugely under-reported in Europe. Fear of not being believed, lack of trust in the justice system or the stigma attached to it deter too many women from reporting rape.
When they report, chances of having their case tried by a court are slim. Often, cases are dropped at various stages of the legal process without ever making it to trial. This means that perpetrators are not held to account.
Harmful myths and gender stereotypes about what constitutes rape and consent are widespread both in justice systems and societies as a whole.
Changing laws will help change attitudes
Having human rights-compliant rape laws in place will not resolve everything. But it is an important step towards changing attitudes and achieving justice, by making it clear that sex without consent is rape and it cannot continue with impunity.
A recent survey revealed some worrying attitudes among people in the EU:
- More than 1 in 4 people in the EU believe that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified in certain circumstances, such as if the victim is drunk or under the influence of drugs; is voluntarily going home with someone, wearing revealing clothes, not saying ‘no’ clearly or not fighting back.
- More than 1 in 5 people in the EU believe that women often make up or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape.
All of the above is wrong and is rooted in harmful and sexist stereotypes about rape victims. No one other than the perpetrator is responsible for a rape.
These stereotypes are as widespread in society as they are in courts. In 2013, three young men in Sweden were acquitted of raping a 15-year-old girl with a wine bottle until she bled. The verdict stated: “People involved in sexual activities do things naturally to each other’s body in a spontaneous way, without asking for consent.” The judges also suggested that the girl’s refusal to open her legs might have been a sign of “shyness”.
This case sparked the formation of a new national movement FATTA (“Get it”), that was a major force behind the recent legislative change in Sweden, where the law now recognizes the simple fact that sex without consent is rape.
Freedom from rape is a human right
A legal definition of rape based on the absence of consent is not new or ground-breaking. International and regional human rights law in Europe require states to protect everyone from rape.
This also includes battling root causes of sexual violence by transforming laws, policies and attitudes that put people, and in particular women and girls, at risk of rape.
2014 was a landmark year for everyone fighting sexual violence against women in Europe, as The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence entered into force. The aim of this treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention, is to ensure that governments guarantee the rights of all women and girls, and everybody else, to a private and public life free from violence, including sexual violence.
The Istanbul Convention clearly states that the lack of consent has to be at the centre of any legal definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence. It has been ratified by more than 20 European states, but the majority of them still haven’t amended their legal definitions of rape accordingly.
In the past five years, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has urged several European states to bring their legislation on rape in line with international standards, including the Istanbul Convention, and to define rape on the basis of the absence of consent.
Women are sparking change all over Europe demanding they be free from rape. We will keep fighting for states to take responsibility, work to change public attitudes and recognise in law and in practice that sex without consent is rape.