Violence against women “To be a victim is no longer a reason to be ashamed”

After the “No means No” debate, many women see their right to sexual self-determination as strengthened
After the “No means No” debate, many women see their right to sexual self-determination as strengthened | Photo: Christian Mang © imago

Violence against women – the jurist Monika Frommel has been studying the subject for decades. In this interview she talks about typical cases and protection against attacks by your own partner.
 

Mrs Frommel, in the countries of the European Union over the last fifteen years one woman in three has been a victim of physical and sexual violence. A study conducted in 2014 by the EU showed this. One in five of these women has experienced violence at the hands of her own partner. How common is violence against women in Germany?
 
Monika Frommel Monika Frommel | Photo: © private As late as the 1950s the figure was incredibly high. Especially the number of rapes – extreme! Back then it was about twelve cases per 1,000 inhabitants; today it’s nine. With respect to these figures you must also bear in mind that today more rapes are reported – to be a victim is no longer a reason to be ashamed. Our culture has learned that sexual attacks are unacceptable. Of course it still happens that drunken women are sexually exploited and there’s still violence within relationships. But the number of attacks have almost halved since 2004, both in assault and battery, where mainly men are the victims, and in sexual offences, which mainly affect women. This is especially true for big cities. The morality of negotiation, as I would call it, has also been widely adopted in relationships, excepting always very problematic ones with a great deal of violence.
 
What forms of violence play a role?
 
The range is broad. There’s domestic violence in partnerships. The danger for women to be beaten, raped or humiliated is greatest in their familiar surroundings. Nor does this end for many women even after separation; they continue to be threatened or subjected to psychological terror by stalking. By violence against women we also understand cases in which men ignore the “No”. Most such men have also been violent in the past and women don’t avoid assault in the relationships. For instance, because they don’t want quarrels to wake the children. In mid-2016 there was a debate in Germany about “No means No”, which, among other things, has led to a change in the law governing sexual offences. In accordance with its principle, in future anyone who compels sexual acts by ignoring the “recognizable will” of the victim can be punished.

“Don’t pour oil in the fire”

How can women best protect themselves?
 
I don’t think it’s difficult to protect yourself against domestic violence. I wouldn’t advise a woman to bring criminal charges. The Protection against Violence Act of 2002 is more effective in such cases. The woman concerned goes to the local court, receives there a form and legal aid, and files a petition that the court issue a protection order. Then the man must either leave the flat or submit to certain conditions. If he doesn’t, he is liable to prosecution.
 
Why is this better than bringing criminal charges?
 
Because it has an influence on the relationship – and an immediate one. The man must leave the flat, even if it belongs to him. It’s a brutal law that is applied with incredible effect. The woman gets nothing if, after a criminal complaint, the case is dismissed. On the contrary, the situation heats up and more violence can occur. It’s like pouring oil on the fire.

Men too can be victims of violence

Can you describe cases in which it’s difficult to fight back legally?
 
For example, cases in which a woman submits to sexual intercourse. She knows the man and knows he’s difficult and violent. Then she goes to the police. This is a so-called “hard-to-prove” case, because there was no violence involved in the reported sexual contact against her will. She could have avoided it, left the flat or have her partner thrown out – in accordance, for instance, with the Protection against Violence Act. But she doesn’t. This unfortunately is often what happens. Proving an offence within a relationship is particularly difficult. It’s a matter of his word against hers and there are often no signs of physical injuries.
 
Men are also victims of violence in Germany.
 
I had a client who was being severely harassed by a woman stalker. She even broke into his flat. But he didn’t want to use the Protection against Violence Act against her. Instead he moved and kept his address anonymous. There’s a marked asymmetry between women and men in the willingness to report offences of this sort. Men who become victims of violence shy away much more from responding with a criminal complaint or going to the local court.
 

on the person

The jurist Monika Frommel was Director of the Institute of Sanctions Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel. A professor of sexual law relating to sexual offences, she is also co-editor of the journal “Neue Kriminalpolitik” and a member of the advisory board of the journal “Kritische Justiz”.