Last month, the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony released a report that suggests that in Germany, survivors of rape are finding it increasingly difficult to see their assailants convicted. Over the past 20 years, the conviction rate of German rape cases has nosedived from 22% to 8%. The numbers are actually direr because they are not evenly spread. In the three richest states, 24% of rape cases end in conviction, and the number of reported rape cases has dropped by a third. In the three poorest states, 4% of rape cases end in conviction, while the number of reported cases has actually increased by 40%.
This gross and growing inequality is further intensified by unequal access to technology. The study finds that the states that videotape survivors’ accounts have a much higher conviction rate. North Rhine-Westphalia does not use recordings. It was in a court in Essen, in North Rhine-Westphalia, in 2012, where the court told a fifteen-year old survivor of sexual violence that although she had screamed and shouted “No!” repeatedly, she had not sufficiently defended herself, and so there was no rape. The judge’s ruling was based on a similar case in 2006.
The report suggests three large frameworks by which to read the German situation. First, in 1998, the State made marital rape illegal, which explains the spike in the reported number of sex crimes committed by partners. Second, the Courts’ understanding of what constitutes sexual violence, and rape in particular, poisons both police station and courthouse. If women know the bar for “sufficient defense” is impossibly high, why come forth? If police know the judge will demand a great deal, why process cases? Across Germany, women are organizing to force the government to change the laws. Finally, the report notes that police officers, prosecutors and courts are understaffed and overworked.
And so “naturally”, when understaffed and overworked, violence against women is brushed aside? No! This brushing off is part of a national development programme. Over the past 20 years, the period of the study, inequality in Germany has grown. Some states grew richer and richer, and some poorer and poorer, and the distance between the two groups grew. At the same time, Germany bought into parts of the American system of mass incarceration, which means that the police, prosecutors and judges in certain areas were so busy that they could not attend to women. Women in poorer states became collateral damage for the enrichment of the few.
Some have called the disparity between rich and poor states a vicious cycle. According to Christian Pfeiffer, Director of the Criminological Research Institute, “For Germany, this is unacceptable.” It should be unacceptable everywhere, and yet where is the country in which poor and rich are treated equally by the State? What is to be done?
By Dan Moshenberg
Dan Moshenberg writes at Women In and Beyond the Global and at Africa Is a Country, and is Director of the Women’s Studies Program at The George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. GWU and Rape Crisis are in a partnership to write together about the dearth of essential services to women in the context of a global funding crisis and to explore how technology can help find innovative and cost effective ways of addressing the problem.